Test Pilot

Pulling this drink out of the old reliable Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log, in pursuit of something in which to give the new falernum a spin — and given my purpose, could there be a more perfect name than the “Test Pilot”?

I first tried this last week, and immediately became very fond of it. The Bum credits the recipe to Don the Beachcomber, circa 1941, and as he wrote elsewhere in the book, one of Don’s secret ingredients was the combination of Angostura and Pernod. I can see why — both are used in minute doses, so you don’t actually taste their flavor up front, but Angostura does its deep, spicy thing in the glass while the Pernod takes its mildly sweet anise-ey flavor and spreads it out to the far corners of the drink, so you don’t actually taste anise, but you know something is in there that’s rounding the edges of all the other flavors.

I’d go even further and say that Don’s use of this bitters-pastis one-two punch is the missing link between the old-school classic cocktails of the Gilded Age and beyond, and the mid-century Tiki movement that Don helped launch. Bitters, of course, are one of four ingredients in the original cocktail as it was defined, and many of the old classics were given a little vavoom and a touch of wahoo with a few drops of absinthe (witness: the Third Degree, basically an old-time dry martini with a dash of absinthe; and the McKinley’s Delight, a rye Manhattan with a little cherry brandy and a dab of the old monster).

The Test Pilot is an excellent primer to tiki drinks. Like any good cocktail, it doesn’t taste like any of its constituent parts, but rather it’s a carefully balanced amalgam of all the different ingredients. I’d serve this to anyone who looked down their nose at tiki drinks, as proof that this style of libation can be balanced and layered, and can have a gentle sweetness that is in perfect accordance with the tartness from the citrus.

For this version, I’ve used Herbsaint in place of Pernod (I was looking for a reason to crack that bottle I brought back from New Orleans, plus the good Grog Log informs us that Herbsaint enjoys a certain degree of historical accuracy), and I’ve used Appleton V/X for the dark Jamaican rum (perhaps not exactly what was intended, but Lemon Hart Jamaican is nowhere to be found around here, and Myers just disappoints me), and slightly more flavorful Cruzan white in place of the light Puerto Rican rum. Also, I lacked a wooden oyster fork — really, there’s such a thing? — so I just tossed the garnish on top.

For blending, I decided to also use an immersion blender in place of one of the upright canister types — partially for noise & hassle-of-cleaning reasons, but also because the stick blender gives me a little more control, so I can pulse it a few times with crushed ice over five seconds or so, and have a drink that’s mixed, but without the consistency of a slushy.

Test Pilot

  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce Falernum
  • 3 teaspoons Cointreau
  • dash Angostura bitters
  • 1/8 teaspoon Pernod
  • 3/4 ounce light Puerto Rican rum
  • 1 1/2 ounces dark Jamaican rum

Blend with 1 cup crushed ice for 5 seconds, then pour into double old-fashioned glass. Add more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a wooden oyster fork with maraschino cherry skewered on prongs.

10 Responses to Test Pilot

  1. Paul,

    The Test Pilot easily makes into my top five favorite tiki drinks. Everything you said about the bitters and Pernod is so true – I’ve even used that trick to some success in making up a variety of concoctions.

    Have you tried Gosling’s as a dark Jamaican rum substitute? I know it’s not a true Jamaican, nor does it taste much like Myer’s, but I’ve definitely found it to work in many of the Bum’s recipes that call for dark Jamaican. You may have to adjust the sweetness of the drink or add in a bit of V/X for balance, but it’s usually tasty without. It’s reasonably priced too.

    After all your discussion of crushed ice lately, I had no idea how blessed I was to have it at my finger tips. If you are ever shopping for a new refrigerator, I highly recommend LG, especially if you want perfect crushed ice. There is a wide enough variety in chunk size, and it is quite aerated.

    Granted, I’m always feverishly topping off tiki drinks with it and spilling crushed ice all over the floor much to Gretchen’s dismay. I just can’t stop until I’ve reached that perfect crystal mountain of ice.

  2. Paul,

    Nice writeup!

    I especially enjoyed this turn of phrase, “…many of the old classics were given a little vavoom and a touch of wahoo with a few drops of absinthe”.

    I look forward to taking the Test Pilot for a spin at some time in the near future.

  3. Paul – Stumbled across your site while trying to find a US importer of Falernum. I became hooked on Corn ‘n’ Oils while in Barbados on my honeymoon. My parents, who go every year, usually bring back 6 bottles of falernum per trip. Our favorite bartender in Barbados muddles a half a lime with crushed ice, and then adds 2 parts rum to one part falernum, plus a dash of bitters. I’m having one right now. Cheers.

    ps, if you know how to find falernum in the US, please advise.

  4. Paul – I also stumbled across your site looking for falernum. Great site! Thanks for sharing the recipe and years of experimentation. After straining off the 6 oz of liquid from the soak and putting it aside, I poured another two ounces of rum over the squeezed fruit and soaked the ginger, cloves and lime zest in it another two days. I was curious what would happen if the soak lasted longer, as the fruit still seemed so fresh. The liquid from that was completely different from the original, as you can imagine, but didn’t taste bitter. I made your recipe to spec with the original liquid and it’s great, very smooth (I have no idea what it’s supposed to taste like). I made a tiny batch with the second soak and it is very different – the ginger is strong and more astringent than in the original (as one would expect). I had to increase the almond extract a little, but I like it. For the fruity punch drink I’m making it will work well but doesn’t work at all for the simpler recipes you’ve described, it’s just not as smooth.

  5. Brett,

    Wow–you have perhaps the most enviable falernum experience I’ve ever encountered. To find falernum in the US is either quite easy or incredibly difficult, depending on where you live–some states (NY, California, etc) carry Taylor’s Velvet Falernum in better stocked liquor stores; others, such as Washington, with its state-run liquor monopoly, don’t carry it at all. If you’re in a state where it’s legal to have spirits shipped, you can try ordering from BevMo or Sam’s Wine. Fee’s falernum may be more easy to find at better-stocked specialty food stores, or you can order it from Fees (www.feebrothers.com), but I believe they have a minimum (but I think they let you mix-and-match, if you’re ordering other things). You can also try making your own–check out my most recent recipe, for Falernum #8, it’s pretty good (if I do say so myself). And if you’re feeling particularly generous to cocktail bloggers you’ve never met, I’d love to get my hands on some real Barbados falernum, just to sample it and see how mine measures up.

    Cindy–wow, good going on the experiments! Do me a favor, if you can–hang on to a little bit of your second batch for three weeks or so, then taste it again–I’m just curious if the astringent ginger taste fades, like the spiciness tends to do. Did the lime linger much in the second batch, or did the first soak pretty much take all the oils from the zest? Now you’ve made me curious to see what happens…..

  6. I’d love to have aged the second batch but last weekend my poker group sucked down every drop of first batch falernum I had and we used it as a last resort. I made two more huge batches of punch on the fly that night. Most of that group get around, alcohol-wise, and were pretty excited to try a new drink flavoring. I know what gift I’ll be giving for the holidays this year. (I’ve been giving credit where it’s due, so hope you get some extra hits to your site.)

    At any rate, I plan to repeat my experiment this weekend as I have tons of ginger left over and I’ll try your suggestion. Maybe I’ll put the second batch in the basement fridge where it’s less likely to be seized in an emergency.

  7. This is a classic recipe. On of the perfect 10 recipes. You can better utilize the Beachbum Berry books at my site The Grogalizer and you’ll find a link there when you log in, for an online source for Falernum. This important ingredient has been recreated by Fee Brothers to meet the old Sazerac recipe. There a re a few other Falernums out there, but this is the one you need to make your vintage tropical cocktails.

  8. I will try your recipe. Don the Beachcombers in St.Paul,Mn which closed years ago used 151 proof rum as one of the rums, and would limit you to 2 drinks. Also the garnish was a large chunk of fresh pineapple.

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