Right off the bat, a disclaimer: I have never been to the Caribbean. The closest I’ve come is a quick overnight in Key West, so quick in fact that I didn’t even have a chance to hit a single bar. With this in mind, perhaps it’s forgivable that I’ve never tasted falernum. But, inspired by recent postings over at Slakethirst, and motivated by a desire to make new tasty things I can mix with booze and drink, I recently embarked on a falernum-making project, with no clear idea what my finished product should taste like.
First, the details: Falernum is a lightly alcoholic sweetener typically used in rum-based tropical drinks. Little is known of its origins, but commercial versions–made in Barbados and the U.S. (the latter sold as Velvet Falernum; both are sadly unavailable in Seattle)–are described as having the taste of lime, cloves, ginger, vanilla, and/or allspice. Non-alcoholic versions are available, including a bottling by Da Vinci Gourmet, made less than two miles from my home (but I’ll be damned if I can find a bottle anywhere, and principle keeps me from paying a $5 shipping fee for a $7.50 bottle of something produced within walking distance of my house).
Fortunately, recipes exist. For my batch of falernum, I turned to the guide posted by Rachel Perlow on eGullet (though I did cut this recipe in half, so as not to have my kitchen overwhelmed by a sweetener I’ve never tasted).
First, I used my trusty microplane to zest 1 1/2 limes, which I then placed in a 1/2 cup of light rum (I used Bacardi, for basic unimposing flavor / thriftiness sake) along with three cloves and a few drops of almond extract. I let the mixture steep for about 24 hours, then strained it through cheesecloth and mixed it with simple syrup–2 cups each of water and sugar (I used ordinary white cane sugar, so the flavor of demerara or turbinado wouldn’t take over the taste of the finished product.)
Results? Sweet! No, really, it’s pretty damn sweet, much moreso than I’d anticipated. Though, most drink recipes I see that call for falernum only use it in drips and drabs, much like other syrups and liqueurs, so it’ll take a few test drives to really assess the quality.
Initial runs seem promising. A first trial in a Rum Swizzle–essentially just a daiquiri with falernum used instead of sugar–produced a drink with the charming base character of the daiquiri, but with a little more depth and mystery to it, like a daiquiri’s charming cousin just in town from Havana. Additional trials in various rum punches–the kind where I start with the idea of a Planter’s Punch, then knock in some falernum or orgeat just to make things interesting–also produce pleasing results.
If I were to make this again–which will be a while, considering I have about 750ml of the stuff to work my way through–I’d probably do a couple of things different. First, I’d introduce a bit of ginger to the mix, to give it a little more zing, and maybe a couple more cloves, for general spiciness sake. Second, the sugar’s gotta be toned way down–I enjoy falernum as a sweetener, but in drinks where it’s more prominent (like the Corn ‘n Oil), the sweetness verges into toothache territory.
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