A couple of weeks back, after I documented my experiment with making my own falernum, a very kind visitor to this site who happens to also live in Seattle contacted me by e-mail and offered me the remainder of a bottle of Velvet Falernum, so I could compare the commercial product to my home-made variety. Tonight I sat down and put the falernums through their paces; here’s how it turned out.
Test #1: Falernum, neat, in snifters
I poured small amounts of each of the falernums–the homemade, in the bottle on the left, and Velvet Falernum, on the right–into snifters (well, sherry glasses really, but they’ll have to do).
The homemade version had a much more subdued smell, with the mild aroma of cloves and lime, but with a certain fresh fruitiness to it. The Velvet Falernum, on the other hand, was much brighter and aromatic, with a more assertive fruit fragrance, yet the fruitiness seemed a bit more synthetic–not as fresh as in the homemade. (I should point out two things here: first, Velvet Falernum contains lime juice, while the homemade does not (I was afraid that adding fresh juice would compromise the falernum’s shelf-life); second, Velvet Falernum lists an ABV of 11 percent; I don’t know offhand what my homemade weighs in at, but I’m pretty certain it’s less than 11 percent. The increased alcohol content could play a role in the assertiveness of the aroma).
When tasting them neat, I noticed the homemade presented it’s sweetness first, with a gentle spicy finish, and a faint hint of fresh lime at the end. Velvet Falernum was a bit more savory (while still tasting just as, if not more, sweet as the homemade). The VF was tangier, but still had a fruitiness that seemed “fake” to my palate, as compared to the fresher-tasting homemade.
Test #2: Corn ‘n Oil
I previously mentioned my first experience with Corn ‘n Oil, a drink made of equal parts rum and falernum, with a dash of bitters, stirred with ice & then strained into an ice-filled glass. The C&O seemed a good candidate to let each of these falernums demonstrate how they play with others. For both drinks, I used Mount Gay Eclipse rum and Fee Bros. Old-Fashioned Aromatic Bitters.
In the Velvet Falernum C&O, the fruity flavor was dominant–there was no trace of the Cuba Libre-like taste I’d mentioned in my initial trial with this drink. The 1:1 ratio of falernum to rum still made a very sweet drink, but there was a more pronounced spiciness, I assume brought out by the bitters. Even with a full-bodied rum like Mount Gay, the falernum was dominant in the glass.
With the homemade falernum, I detected a deeper, smoother sweetness. The taste was more complex, and the flavor of the cloves in the liqueur seemed to marry with that of the spices in the bitters more thoroughly.
Test #3: add fresh lime juice to the Corn ‘n Oil
Since my homemade version doesn’t contain lime juice, I decided to level the playing field a bit by squeezing a lime wedge into the C&O containing my stuff; after tasting them side by side, I’d then add the same amount of fresh lime to the VF version.
That was it–the fresh juice brought the C&O with homemade falernum to life. The fruitiness I’d detected in the Velvet Falernum became apparent, but brighter and fresher, as you’d expect using a fresh lime. When juice was added to the Velvet version, it improved the drink, but the commercial falernum was still dominant, and at this point, not in a good way.
Test #4: blind taste test with an unsuspecting family member
Concerned I might be biased in favor of my homemade falernum, I presented the two glasses to my wife, who had no idea what was going on. After tasting each Corn ‘n Oil, with lime juice added, she pronounced the one made with domestic stuff to have a smoother sweetness to it, while the Velvet variety was more flavorful but not as pleasant, with a bitter edge to it.
I’m not going out of my way to shop for Velvet Falernum. Instead, I’ll be sure to give a small squeeze of lime juice to drinks I make with my homemade, to bring out that bright freshness it lacks. And, the next batch around, I’ll also add more cloves to the mix, and maybe some grated ginger, to ramp up the spiciness angle just a bit more.
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