Blame the drinking, but cocktail history is often hazy. So it's no surprise that the origins of falernum—and even its exact ingredients—vary depending on whom you ask. Generally speaking, it's a sweetened lime and spice concoction that was (probably) created in Barbados somewhere between 1826 and 1930. You'll see both syrups and liqueurs referred to as falernum, but the key ingredients are always lime zest, cloves, and sugar—usually combined with ginger and almonds or almond extract.
Falernum is indispensable in Tiki drinks, brightening the sour notes of citrus and adding a hint of rich spice. But it also plays well with slightly bitter flavors. If you're at all interested in Tiki cocktails, this stuff is a must-have for your home bar.
What's Available to Buy
Whether it's in syrup or liqueur form, falernum is a bit tricky to find in stores. John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum is the only liqueur version I've seen for sale. It's sweet with a strong citrus flavor and pleasant spice notes that aren't overwhelming.
In the syrup category, there's B.G. Reynolds and Fee Brothers along with another offering from Taylor's. The Fee Brothers syrup, while tasty, seemed a little flatter in flavor than the Velvet Falernum liqueur, though cocktails can be adjusted to make it work.
As you've probably noticed by now, I love to make basically everything I can at home. But Falernum is a great DIY candidate for everyone, not just cocktails geeks. It can be hard to find commercially, yet it's cheap and simple to make at home. The ingredients are all common and inexpensive items, and falernum shows up in way more drink recipes than you'd think. You can certainly hunt some down online or at a very well-stocked liquor store, but it's easier (and more fun) to make it at home.
Homemade falernum also offers the opportunity for flavor tweaking and personalization. For example, you could use an overproof rum or include ginger, star anise, cinnamon, or lemon zest.
Get the Recipe
You might be surprised how quickly you'll use up your homemade falernum once you get started. Try it in Tiki essentials like Zombie Punch, the Chartreuse Swizzle, the Test Pilot, or the Saturn. (We're especially big fans of that last one, which features a gin base.)
For something darker, smokier, and distinctly un-Tiki, there's Flor de Muertos, made with mezcal, tequila, and Punt e Mes. If you miss Tiki, but only a little, Sepia's Sweater mixes rum with Calvados for a subtle drink topped with a little bitters. Falernum is so easy to make that soon you'll be mixing different batches specifically to go with your favorite spirits or your new cocktail creations.
About the Author: Marcia Simmons is the co-author of DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. She also shares cocktail recipes and tips on the DIY Cocktails blog and on Twitter @DIYCocktails.