Falernum is a cocktail ingredient still unknown enough— outside the boozy cognoscenti—that you can drop the word glibly into sentences where it doesn’t belong. Tell someone that you’re learning the falernum, an Irish folk dance, or claim to your coach that you need to skip practice because you sprained your falernum. Few would know to call your bluff.
You’ll certainly feel like you’ve sprained something after sucking down a couple of Zombies, the tiki classic in which falernum—a sweetened ginger, lime and almond infusion that’s been showing up in Caribbean drinks for more than a century—plays a critical role. Like the more almond-centric orgeat, falernum is one of those support struts without which many a tropical standard (the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, the Corn ‘n’ Oil, the Chartreuse Swizzle) would collapse like a flimsy beach table. “It’s one of those components that doesn’t show up in a lot of other kinds of drinks, but it’s heavily in the lexicon of tiki beverages,” says Owen Thomson, a co-owner of Archipelago in Washington, D.C.
Falernum came out of the West Indies, that geological strand of pearls in the Caribbean. (Its specific birthplace is unknown, though Barbados is usually credited.) While reading some old recipes, Thomson was struck by echoes of an early American spirit-and-spice drink: “It kind of reminds me of an island version of Rock & Rye,” he says. “They’re taking rum and steeping it with things they had—limes, ginger, allspice, almonds—and letting it hang out in a jar for a couple of weeks.”
Many make their own falernum; the right recipe will get you a delicious brew full of fresh lime notes. But there are commercial options: The lightly alcoholic John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, made in Barbados, is the longtime standard. Blair Reynolds, owner of Hale Pele in Portland, Oregon, makes BG Reynolds Falernum, and other producers include Charleston-based Tippleman’s and Germany’s The Bitter Truth.
While falernum is most commonly found in tiki drinks, its flavors can easily migrate and lift cocktails from other genres. “It has acid from the juice and the lime oil, it has a great spice note, and then it has that sugar, too, so it works great as a modifier,” says Nick Detrich, formerly of Cane & Table in New Orleans, who uses it with apple brandy and bourbon in his Apple Oil. “It works beautifully with gin, and it works on a wide spectrum—a dash of it in a Manhattan, or in place of maraschino in a Martinez.”
From fizzes and classic swizzles to contemporary cocktails and punches, these recipes showcase the spicy sweetness of falernum—one of the cocktail world’s best supporting characters.
An amped-up take on the Jungle Bird.
A modern tiki cocktail with whiskey and raspberry syrup.
A frozen treat with rum, carrot juice and falernum.
Few modern cocktails are as iconic—and delicious—as the Chartreuse Swizzle.
Department of Agricole
A bittersweet rhum drink featuring coffee and falernum.
Nutty sherry and earthy mezcal make this drink a departure from the typical rum-based swizzles.
Heaven is a Place/This is the Place
This tropical delight has a gin base, plus curaçao, falernum and allspice dram.
A tiki drink made with high-proof bourbon.
Cucumber and ginger beer make this falernum cocktail one-of-a-kind.
Landing Gear Fizz
With Punt e Mes, lime juice and sherry, this highball is also low-proof.
A healthy dash of blackstrap rum floats on this mix of Fernet, lime, rum and falernum.
Baker Street Swizzle
A big dose of absinthe anchors this refreshing swizzle recipe.
Ode to Viceroy
This Scotch cocktail is perfectly balanced, with falernum, ginger and lime juice rounding out the mix.
Ply & Pin
Cranberry and Peychaud’s brighten up this whiskey cocktail from Memphis.
Find out how the staff at Slowly Shirley makes one of tiki’s most famous gin cocktails.
Mezcal and green Chartreuse set this swizzle apart.
Spicy Dead Lady
This equal-parts cocktail (mezcal, Aperol, falernum and lime) couldn’t be easier to assemble.
A Piña Colada for tequila drinkers.
Spring Street Swizzle
Two kinds of rum anchor this tropical tipple, which also plays host to orange and pineapple juice.
Three Dots and a Dash
The Smuggler’s Cove adaptation of this tiki favorite stays true to the flavors of Don the Beachcomber’s classic recipe.
Velvet Ace Party Punch
A falernum-heavy punch reminiscent of the Manhattan.