Skip to main content

What Is Falernum? A Guide to the Essential Tropical Ingredient

Falernum sounds like the bone you never knew you had or a creatively named tropical storm. In reality, it’s closer to the latter — a fired-up Caribbean concoction that makes an assortment of classic tropical cocktails all the better.

The first of its kind was likely hatched in Barbados. Literature mentions it as early as the late 1800s, seen at busy ports and lazy beaches. In its infancy, falernum often contained some in-form ingredients of the time, like wormwood. And like so many palate-stretching drinks of yore, it was seen by some as having curative properties.

falernum ingredients
Bhofack2/Getty Images

Several candidates vie for the honor of being named the inventor of invented falernum in the late 19th century, but it didn’t really come into drink nomenclature until the rise of the tiki establishments and the breezy escapism of the 1930s. Seems that once Americans started coveting tropical fruit flavors and rum-based cocktails, falernum became the quiet hero of most resort bars. It’s often lost in the small print of many a tiki bar, but its role is usually a significant one.

At its core, falernum is a soothing mix of baking spices, sugar, nuts (typically almonds) and lime. Its signature heat comes from ginger and there are both boozy and dry versions of the stuff. The former is made with overproof rum, resulting in a roughly 15-20% alcohol by volume liquid perfect for a Mai Tai. Think of it as a rowdier version of orgeat; nutty, but also plenty sweet, zingy, and even a little spicy.

falernum cocktail
Alison Marras

Falernum is great in cocktails like the Zombie and the Corn ‘n Oil. It’s also incredibly refreshing simply mixed with club soda and a twist of lime. In addition to its pronounced flavor profile, falernum also brings a certain textural element to the bar table. With varying sugar contents, it can come across anywhere from lean and relatively light to downright velvety. Try adding some next time you put together a daiquiri or with some festive egg nog with a punch of nutmeg on top.

It’s also tasty away from the bar. Try it with some vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, or drizzled atop some diced plantains before they get caramelized. Falernum is certainly more sweet than savory but some of its more subtle baking spice and almond notes can sometimes get lost in an elaborate umbrella drink. It’s even interesting poured into a good cola or iced tea.

While it’s fairly easy to whip up a batch at home, there are also some nice pre-made options. Check out riffs by BG Reynolds and Tippleman’s and start imbibing like you’re parked on some coral-strewn, turquoise bay. And there’s no time like the present, as falernum touts a unique ability to marry the zesty, free-spirited fun of summer with the cozy, enveloping, spice cabinet flavors of winter. 

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
Drinks 101: What’s a brand ambassador (and are any worth paying attention to)?
What's a brand ambassador? Here's what
Pouring alcohol. Barman working at night and wearing uniform pouring alcohol into glass with ice

First there were influencers, now the brand ambassadors. These important figures -- equal parts drinks personalities and marketing muscle -- personify the companies they work for. And in an era of close consumer scrutiny and cherishing brand character substance as much as product turnout, brand ambassadors are more important than ever.

What's a brand ambassador? Fair question. The title has been a bit muddled as of late, especially with celebrities entering the fray. And while on the surface it can feel just like marketing 101, there's a unique component in the drinks industry that makes it all the more appealing.

Read more
Dogfish Head and Northern Monk are collabing for a trans-Atlantic rye IPA
dogfish head northern monk collab screenshot 2024 06 10 184512

Iconic U.S. craft brewery Dogfish Head is collaborating with hip British brewery Northern Monk to create a rye session IPA that brings together the best of each brewery. The collaboration is the first in a series from Northern Monk, working with a group of friends called Endless Hum, aiming to celebrate bands and artists beloved by the brewers and to create the perfect beer for watching your favorite musicians live.

The rye session IPA is citrusy with orange and resin, plus juniper, sage, and other spices and features a hint of tropical fruit.  "Monk and Dogfish Head came up with the concept over two shared ideas; firstly, we both have enjoyed playing with small percentages of rye in the grist of session beers for that extra depth of flavor and mouthfeel it can bring, and secondly, we both enjoyed the white sage twist we added to last year's Hop City collaborative release," Northern Monk writes.

Read more
These new whiskies from Chivas Brothers can only be found in duty free
Pick up a bottle the next time you travel
Scotch drams

Two new whisky collections from Chivas Brothers are on their way to release, but if you want to pick up a bottle from either, then you'll need to check your airport next time you're flying. The new releases are exclusive to "global travel retail" -- or duty-free to you and me.
Royal Salute Small Batch Collection
The first of the pair comes from Royal Salute, which is debuting its Small Batch collection. The idea is to showcase rare and unusual whiskies that have been aged for several decades in various casks. Eight whiskies are in the collection, all presented in distinctive purple packaging and each aged between 25 and 28 years. Some of the casks used include rye, French oak, and Pedro Ximénez sherry, and the bottles will sell for between $450 and $750.

“Each of the eight whiskies available in this Small Batch collection were matured in special casks which I have personally selected on my travels around the world," said Sandy Hyslop, master blender at Chivas Brothers. "This is a truly unique collection, with each individual whisky having a unique flavor profile, providing an array of choice to suit different preferences and open up new tasting experiences.”
Ballantine's Golden Hour
The second release is from Ballantine's, which is introducing a 23-year-old Golden Hour series. The series features blended Scotches aged for 23 years, with the first release aged in Cognac casks. This 40% abv bottle will be released first in travel retail in the Asia Pacific region, selling for $279.

Read more