Falernum Controversy: The Good Doc Weighs In

Falernum taste test at Hukilau 2004, photo by James Teitelbaum
Falernum taste test at Hukilau 2004, photo by James Teitelbaum

In my social circle, occasionally with the right people in the conversation, you can drop one little word — “falernum” — and kick back and watch the fireworks. Sure it’s a bit dorky, but it’s very endearing and even heartening to see such passion over a little-known liqueur. Here it is in a nutshell: Falernum is called for in a number of classic tiki drinks, Falernum has been produced over the years by a number of different outfits with a lot of variation in recipes, and Falernum stopped being available in the United States sometime in the ’90s. In its place, DaVinci syrups made a non-alcoholic Falernum syrup to mimic the now-rare ingredent for use in restaurants. Today, we have access to a couple of very different Falernum liqueurs, each having its own believers in it being the One True Falernum.

The Falernum that seems most tightly tied to the oldest Falernum recipe is Velvet Falernum, which has a light, crisp flavor. In the other corner is Fee Brothers Falernum, which aims to taste more like a later Falernum brand, Sazerac, and has a heavier, more syrupy taste. Some argue that Velvet Falernum is the most true to original Falernum, while others argue that it doesn’t matter, because the richer, syrupier Sazerac Falernum was more likely to be used when developing the recipes for the classic tiki drinks.

I got to taste four different Falernums (Velvet Falernum, DaVinci Falernum Syrup, Sazerac Falernum, and Fee Brothers Falernum) at the 2004 Hukilau, as pictured above in a photo by James Teitelbaum. Personally, I love the flavor of Velvet Falernum. It’s bright and tasty, and stands up well when sipped straight. But, at the end of the day, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically the right Falernum to use in a cocktail.

Ted Haigh, a.k.a. Dr. Cocktail, author of the book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, is just the guy you want to weigh in on the topic. He openly admits that he’s not impartial on the topic, but he’s a voice I trust. Today, he’s done just that with an excellent article at Martini Republic that fills in some history, revisits the controversy, and ultimately casts his own judgement on the whole affair.

Not that it’ll settle anything.

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