Slakethirst West Indies Falernum

July 18th, 2005

Slakethirst FalernumI’ve concocted a batch of falernum, starting from the eGullet recipe mentioned earlier. It may be that I employed profoundly weak ingredients, but whatever the reason, the eGullet recipe proved to be terribly sweet and not much else. After many trial blendings, tastings, modifications, and re-blendings, here’s the final recipe for Slakethirst West Indies Falernum:

1 cup white rum
zest of 3 limes
9 whole cloves
25 dashes Fee’s Aromatic Bitters
5 drops almond extract

Steep for 24 hours, strain, and add to 16 oz. of a 1:1 turbinado simple syrup.

Three limes’ worth of zest nicely fills a cup of rum and looks absolutely loverly, turning it a pale, pale green in the space of a day. Note that I didn’t muddle the lime zest, as perhaps I ought to have… this may account for differences in intensity observed later.

Three cloves, on the other hand, was definitely not enough to approximate the spiciness of John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum. Clovey spiciness is responsible for the cola-notes in Corn ‘n Oil which make it seem so like a Cuba Libre. So, after 24 hours I strained the lime infusion of cloves and zest and added 6 new cloves for another day of infusing. Even this proved to be insufficient to achieve the proper pepperiness — it may well be that my cloves were old and lacking vim — so I turned to Fee’s Aromatic Bitters to supply the necessary punch. It’s less bespoke because of it, but we’re already using a commercial almond extract, so what the hell. Next time I’ll buy the freshest cloves I can find and see if it makes a difference.

A test blending of infused rum:syrup at the suggested 1:4 ratio yields something very sweet and far less limey than is wanted. It’s only at 1:2 that the lime seems to hold its own. Granted, the quality of the lime flavor achieved in this recipe is a bit different from that in Velvet Falernum, which contains lime juice, but a 1:2 blend makes for a similar intensity.

The commercial Velvet Falernum product is a much paler color than mine, likely attributable to the choice of sugar. I opted for turbinado for a bit more flavor, but those seeking a closer visual cognate should use white cane sugar instead.

Speaking of visuals, I don’t particularly care for unlabeled bottles of fluid in the bar, so a bit of experimentation with glass etching seemed in order. The able Ms. Thirsty and I spent some quality time pushing pixels around and mucking with screen printing and acid creams. It didn’t turn out half-bad, if I do say so… with some modifications to the process, I think we’ll be etching-up vessels for gomme and grenadine in the near future, and likely any other domestically produced mixological reagents that become permanent fixtures of the backbar.

Update: See also this post in the tikiroom forums. 24 cloves macerated, plus 3 additional Tbs and it still wasn’t clovey enough… obviously achieving the right spiciness isn’t just my problem.

Planter’s Punch

July 18th, 2005

It’s been hot on the grounds of the Slakethirst estate — conditions which turn the palate towards that old devil rum. Adam Thornton recently suggested Planter’s Punch, and while I happened to have neither pineapple juice nor a copy of DeGroff (required to make one a la Thornton), there are other ways and means, and it seemed a very good idea, as it’s been a while.

3 oz. dark rum
3/4 oz. grenadine
juice of a small lime
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 dashes Fee’s Aromatic bitters

Stir with crushed ice and strain into a collins glass 2/3 full of same

The recipe above is Vic Bergeron’s, from his 1947 Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide. It has been slightly modified for convenience (more grenadine, no bar sugar) and personal preference (no bitters in Vic’s), but I don’t think it loses much in translation. Mix it right and you’ll know it, because you will have been transported. Portland lost its Trader Vic’s years ago, but Vic’s Planter’s Punch recipe brings it back in all its dimly-lit, scorpion bowl slurping splendor. This isn’t mere literary license, either: I really did experience something on the order of a multisensory flashback. It’s a damn fine drink!

A wide variety of juices and ratios may appear under this name — and perhaps validly so … I’ll pick up some pineapple to see what Thornton’s on about — but there’s something very special about this one. Maybe it’s the menehunes.

On Falernum

July 9th, 2005

I am recently returned from a week in Texas, where I availed myself of another state’s take on liquor control — i.e. a bit more free-market, a bit less central committee. Courtesy of the vasty Spec’s Liquor, I’ve acquired a few bottles unavailable to luckless webfeet: Herbsaint, Noilly Prat dry vermouth, and John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, along with some Fee Brother’s Falernum Syrup for comparison. No Torani Amer, unfortunately, but you can’t win ’em all, and the hard-to-find Velvet Falernum was one of the biggies on my list.

Falernum, a mildly alcoholic lime-and-spice liqueur, is an essential component of a number of classic Caribbean cocktails. There seems to be some disagreement concerning the history of falernum, but those who enjoy folksy — if unlikely — origin myths may see the alleged story of its creation. Falernum had all but vanished from these shores when The Sazerac Company discontinued their production some years back, leaving only a few flavored syrups to meet the needs of the US market. Fortunately, the purported original recipe, John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, is once again being imported (and much-promoted by Dale DeGroff).

Many sources suggest that the Fee’s syrup product can be freely substituted in equal parts whenever falernum is called for. It certainly would be convenient if true, since, being non-alcoholic, Fee’s products can be easily ordered while acquiring the boozy Velvet Falernum requires out of state travel or the assistance of visiting friends. Instead of something complicated, like Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai or the Zombie, the best comparison of the two products’ mixological merits seemed to be a very basic Bajan tipple, Corn ‘n Oil.

This from the John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum recipes page:

Corn ‘n Oil

1 oz. rum
1 oz. Velvet Falernum
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass of more freshly crushed ice.

Curiously, the drink reminds me of nothing so much as a Cuba Libre — falernum has within it the sweet-spiciness of cola and the citric tang of lime. Made with Velvet Falernum, Corn ‘n Oil is a short, thin, pale, spicy and elegant cooler. Made with Fee’s, it’s thicker, flatter on the palate, less spicy and more like an under-diluted soda concentrate. There’s really no contest between the two — where Velvet Falernum yields a lively drink, the Fee Brothers’ Falernum Syrup delivers a monotonous thud. If forced to use Fee’s, I would add a few more dashes of their Aromatic Bitters to increase the spiciness, and up the rum to 1.5 oz to thin-down the syrupiness and approximate an alcoholic falernum.

Before my bottle of Velvet Falernum is exhausted I’ll have to have a go at making a batch of my own to test against it. This recipe from eGullet is hailed by some as being superior even to the John D. Taylor product, and Robert Hess records an un-sourced recipe for producing 30 gallons of falernum which is a bit more complicated and would require careful reduction.

Of course, all of the foregoing disregards the fact that most drinks calling for falernum ask for a mere dash to 1/4 oz. It’s possible that outside of Corn ‘n Oil, where the falernum plays such a major role, the Fee’s product is acceptable. I tend to suspect otherwise, but am willing to be proven wrong. I’m not sure what the next beverage trial will be — I was sure that Chas. Baker had recorded some uses for it in The Gentleman’s Companion, but a cursory pass turned up nothing. Perhaps the Royal Bermuda.

Update: Following the eGullet recipe mentioned above, Slakethirst West Indies Falernum has been made. It’s good!

The Police Gazette

June 28th, 2005

Police GazetteFirst off, a big tip of the hat to The Cocktail Chronicles for introducing me to this one. Paul’s much more informative exploration of the Police Gazette can be found here. I reproduce the recipe (as I make it) because if I thought it would help, I’d put up billboards, run off flyers, and write a song or two. It’s really that good. Spicy, herbal, bitter, sweet … complex but perfectly unified, strong but soft-edged. An ideal cocktail, and yet not in the CocktailDB. I may have to start a petition.

3 oz. rye
2 dashes dry vermouth
2 dashes curaçao (orange or white)
2 dashes maraschino
3 dashes simple syrup
2-4 dashes Fee Bros. aromatic bitters, to taste

Fill your mixing tin with crushed ice, add the above, stir and strain.

I’m using Old Overholt rye and Maraska maraschino, Cinzano vermouth and Bols orange curacao. I’ve made it with both Angostura and Fee’s, and while they each have their charms, I’m partial to the latter. I’ll also confess to a bit of sloppiness in the “dash” department — my dashes are unmeasured micro-glugs — but some day I should get around to precisely quantifying exactly how I like it. Technically, a dash is 1/8 tsp, so measure/eyeball accordingly. I’m almost certainly mixing mine a bit wetter than I should, but then again Paul’s gone so far as to cut the rye back to 2 oz, so there must be a fairly forgiving range of ratios.

It’s worth noting that while the Police Gazette is unlikely to appear on your local’s featured drinks list, maraschino is the only uncommon constituent element. Find a bar with maraschino, convince the noble behind the mahogany to produce one, and the dominos may start to fall.

Update : More precise delivery of the dashes — 1/4 oz maraschino, 1/4 oz curaçao, 1/4 oz vermouth, 3/8 oz syrup — reveals that the recipe I cite above is either too heavy on the rye or a bit light on the other ingredients for my taste. It’s a terrible shame, but I’m forced to continue investigating this matter.

The Drink of Noble Grandmas

June 19th, 2005

A Bottle of the Nalewka BabuniI have a bottle of peach Nalewka Babuni, a fortified Polish fruit wine (18% ABV), which I found sitting—very dusty—on the “meads and other unpopular wines” shelf at one of my favorite local grocers. For some reason it beckoned to me. Probably because it was $8.50 and has a name that might be fun to pronounce.

Nalewka Babuni is pretty awful taken neat at room temperature, which is apparently the traditional way of consuming it. Traditional practices are important to keep in mind, here, because the label describes it as a:

Refined, old Polish liquor, present in all the 19th century houses of noblemen. The recipe handed down by noble grandmas has remained unchanged to the present day, lending a glamour to family meetings.

I’d venture that the unchanged recipe of those noble Polish grandmas must’ve been pretty forward-thinking in its day, because the label goes on to note that Peach Nalewka Babuni Wine Specialty is made of grape white wine, molasses neutral spirits, artificial peach type flavor and caramel coloring. I had naïvely thought that 19th century noble grandmas would have produced their peach wines from actual peaches, but that just goes to show how little I know of Eastern European oenological traditions.

Nalewka Babuni is a product of Vinpol, whose product page translates it as “Grandma’s Liquor” for the English-speaking audience. For the record, my grandma’s liquor was Old Crow, but she wasn’t Polish.

Artificially flavored and colored though it may be, this stuff’s not a complete write-off. I’m actually half-enjoying a 3:1 martini made with Nalewka Babuni in lieu of vermouth (and a generous helping of orange bitters). I wouldn’t recommend that anyone run out and buy a case, but it may prove to have its uses. Ah, novelty.