Chat Leftovers: A Cocktail Ingredient Worth Buying
This spirits-related question came in during the Food section's Free Range live chat today, but I wasn't able to get to it during the appointed hour:
Is Jason there? Cocktail help!: I recently had a cocktail here in Annapolis that was delicious — and found out it had a liqueur in it called velvet falernum. I am not able to purchase falernum in Maryland, so I approached the owners of the establishment, and we had a great conversation about how they make their own. And which I have now done. My question is, does anyone know if it is available in D.C. or Virginia? If so, where? I'd like to taste the original so I'll know how my experiments are going — and if they have any particular recipes to recommend. I've attempted the Bermuda rum swizzle, but I'm just not a fan of pineapple juice in my cocktails. Thanks!
Until recently, falernum had, for decades, been unavailable in the U.S. — unless you made it yourself. In fact, back in August 2007 I wrote a column about making your own falernum using Todd Thrasher's recipe. So what is falernum exactly? It's rum that's infused with lime peels, cloves, almonds and other spices. It was a key ingredient in mid-century tiki drinks such as the zombie, the mai tai and the rum swizzle.
Like a lot of obscure spirits resurrected during our recent cocktail renaissance, there now is a falernum on the market: John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum, imported from Barbados by Haus Alpenz. I bought mine at Ace Beverage, and it is distributed locally by Ledroit Brands. You can check out Haus Alpenz's Web site for more info.
So why is an infused rum from Barbados called falernum? No one really knows. But Canadian blogger Darcy O'Neill at Art of Drink has an interesting post from last summer on the origins of falernum, including an 1896 recipe. As for how the name came about, O'Neill writes:
"The story comes from a New York Times article published in 1982 entitled 'In the Lore of Barbados, Redistilled Rum.' The article is basically a piece on the Mount Gay distillery. At the end of the article the discussion is on blending and bottling the rum. One of the statements made by Piercy Ward, plant manager, is that one formula is for a liqueur called Falernum based on an old Barbadian housewife's recipe. To quote: 'Once, when a woman was asked for the ingredients, she answered in the dialect, "Haf a learn um" -- "Have to learn how it's done." ' Hence the name.
"As to whether this is really the true story, or not, who knows...."
Stay tuned for further adventures in falernum. I'll be dealing more with it and other tiki drink ingredients and recipes in a big summer cocktail blowout in a few weeks.
— Jason Wilson
Posted by: staceymarieh | May 14, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse
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