Falernum is a spiced syrup with a rum base used as a sweetener in certain tropical drinks. The precise origins of falernum are a little murky. Supposedly it originally hails from Barbados.
It is certainly relatively common in Barbados, being drunk in classic local drink the Corn’n'Oil (rum, falernum, Angostura Bitters, and a squeeze of lime). The Corn’n'Oil shows how versatile and easy to use Falernum is. You can simply splash it into rum to enhance the rum, or it can be used to create a more elaborate concoction like the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai. It is sort of like a mildly alcoholic tropical version of sweet-and-sour mix.
So far I have relied on making falernum myself. Although I have tasted the Fees Brothers product, I do not rate it highly. The formula seems far too close to standard sweet-and-sour mix to be interesting.
I have tried two different falernum recipes. As with Pimento Dram, I found different recipes yielded very different results. Happily, my second attempt once again proved better than my first.
My first attempt was made as follows:
In 1/2 cup of white rum (Bacardi) soak the following for 48 hours: 6 cloves, 3 cm vanilla bean, zest of 2 limes, and 3 thin slices fresh ginger, and 2 drops almond extract (I was using a highly concentrated almond extract, possibly of dubious quality, hence the very small quantity).
Create a simple syrup from 2 cups white sugar and 2 cups water. Strain the rum mixture and add to syrup. Bottle and use.
This recipe made a tasty lightly spiced syrup. The flavor was not particularly concentrated so there was a temptation to use a lot and thus end up with a very sweet drink. Stored at room temperature the flavor of the syrup began to deteriorate quite rapidly. The low concentration of sugar in the 1:1 simple syrup would not have helped the shelf life of this falernum.
My second attempt used a different recipe, as follows:
Take 4 oz overproof white rum (Sangster’s Conquering Lion, 64%) and infuse it for three days with the following: 20 cloves, 2 tablespoons chopped almonds (approx 25 gms) lightly toasted in a frying pan. Add the zest of 4-5 limes (depending on size) and ¾ oz fresh ginger and infuse for a further day. Adding the limes and ginger only on the last day of the infusion stops the mixture from turning slimy and avoids over-extraction of these flavors.
Strain the above mixture through a moistened cheesecloth, extracting all liquid. Mix the rum infusion with 7 oz simple syrup (2:1 sugar to water ratio), 2 ¼ oz fresh lime juice (strained), 1/8 tsp high quality almond extract, 1/8 tsp high quality vanilla extract. Bottle and use.
This version turns out beautifully. The lime juice gives it an amazing freshness, and also eliminates the need for a squeeze of lime when making a Corn’n'Oil. Of course the lime juice also means you will need to store this syrup in the fridge or freezer. However, since the juice free recipe did not last well at room temperature, refrigerated storage is probably a good idea anyway. This version is like an all purpose rum enhancer, with sourness, sugar, and spices all rolled into one.
If I was to criticize I would say that the almond could be toned down a little. I may try it without one of either the toasted almonds or the almond extract in future. Be very careful not to over-toast the almonds given that they are an assertive taste.
A key point that emerges from comparing the two recipes is probably the importance of overproof spirits when doing infusions. The higher alcohol content extracts flavors better, so make an effort to find and use overproof spirits for infusions, particularly when the infusion is itself to be used to make a liqueur or syrup (dilution of the infusion makes it even more important that it is as intensely flavored as possible to start with). Another point is that when making falernum it makes sense to go heavy on the spices. The first recipe, with only 6 cloves to 500 mls of syrup (infused in standard proof rum), did not really cut it. The second recipe, with 20 cloves to approximately 250 mls of syrup+juice (infused in overpoof rum), was a big improvement flavor-wise. If your falernum somehow ends up too spicy you can always cut it with simple syrup, but if it lacks flavor there is not much you can do besides using huge quantities and producing overly sweetened drinks. Therefore you may as well be generous with the spices.