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American Falernum and the continuing rise of artisanal spirits · 29.05.20 by colin newell

California Falernum

A long, long time ago (before COVID19) Andrea and I sat at Don the Beachcomber, the legendary Kona, Hawaii bar at The Royal Kona Resort off of Alii Drive.

Between sips of Mai Tai and savoury nibbles out of a bucket of shrimp, we were regaled by a passionate and knowledgeable bartender on the subject of Tiki drinks.

I quickly learned about the finer points of what makes a great Orgeat syrup (the simple roasted almond syrup that gives the Mai Tai its nutty and warming bite) and a Falernum – the sweet, spicy and mysterious building block for the classic cocktail called the “Corn n’ Oil.”

This discovery of warming spice, citrus and roast nut infusions of simple syrups started me on a journey that has led me to a home bar that has dozens of bottles of aromatic bitters and exotic syrups.

Martin Geijer (pronounced “yay-er”) of San Francisco, California’s Geijer Spirits, walked me through a master-class of 21st Century artisanal spirits. “I have a family history of Swedish spirit making that goes back four generations,” and continues, “My grandmother had a still in her backyard for making moonshine!”

Martin’s Swedish Gran also created a beloved seasonal liqueur known as Glögg that was popular around Christmas for its “warming properties.” Glögg has found its way into numerous cocktails in the west. But first, some backstory!

​Glögg liqueur is based on a 19th Century Swedish family recipe. Spice notes include cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, while hints of almond and bitter orange harmonize to create a flavour profile recognizable from the beach bars of Trinidad, Tobago and Jamaica. These profiles form the foundation of many “Tiki” drinks.
Martin Geijer reminds us of the importance of family history, the integrity and purity of recipes handed lovingly through time and the importance of being mindful of their origins while being playful or, dare I say, whimsical about re-interpretation.

Martin could have rested on the initial success of his Glögg, but he listened to his friends and industry insiders and challenged the boundaries that exist between simple bar syrups and classic aperitif and digestif liqueurs.

California Falernum is a superb example of this re-thinking process. Take a classic warm-spice infused syrup and supercharge it with a finely crafted California-interpretation of a proprietary Jamaican rum. So finessed are the warming notes of allspice with hints of lime, so delicate a bouquet, that the California Falernum stands alone and proudly in a brandy glass or snifter. Don’t be afraid to mix it into your favorite Tiki recipes or cook up your own signature drinks.

Lesson learned: Liqueur, aromatic bitters and syrup selections have a long and colourful history that warrant study.

Our recipe: The classic Southern cocktail, the “Corn n’ oil”.

2 ounces Blackstrap rum (preferably Cruzan)
1/2 ounce California Falernum
1/2 ounce lime juice
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Shaken or stirred, it’s best served in your best vintage rocks glass on a single large ice cube.

Garnish with a lime wedge.

We declared after the first sip: “Well hello Stranger!”

Don’t take my word for it – you can track down some of this good stuff at Vision Wine and Spirits

Have a listen to our interview –

Download – California-FALERNUM-final-cut-2020.mp3


Colin Newell is a resident of Victoria B.C. Canada and has been writing about food, coffee and cocktail culture for over 25 years.

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