Spirits

Falernum

What is falernum and where does its name come from? Who invented falernum and when? Where did it originate? What ingredients actually go into a falernum? We answer these questions in this article.

What is falernum?

In general, the answer to this question is that falernum is a syrupy rum liqueur made from rum, sugar, almonds, limes and ginger, along with various herbs and spices, and that it originated in Barbados. However, there is no exact definition of the ingredients; the different falernum variants that can be purchased or made oneself are manifold. [1] [2] [6] But there are now also non-alcoholic versions. [1] [2] However, all this is the modern understanding of what falernum is. As will become apparent after evaluating historical sources, falernum was originally composed somewhat differently. We will go into this in more detail later, after we have listed the historical citations.

Where does the name falernum come from?

Falernum is an old Roman name for a particular wine. There is evidence that it was used as early as 140 BC. According to Pliny, this Roman falernum had an alcohol content of just under 30 vol%. [1] [2] [6]

However, this Roman falernum does not have much in common with the Barbadian falernum, and no explanation can be found for the similarity of the name. According to a rumour, however, the name can be traced back to an incident in which an old woman was asked about the ingredients, and she is said to have answered in her dialect: “Haf a learn um”. This is said to mean “Have to learn how it’s done”, i.e. that one has to learn how to prepare it. Based on a misunderstanding, this is how the falernum got its name. [1] [2] [3] [6] A nice story – but it will probably not be true and rather belong to the realm of legends. We outline another possible interpretation below in connection with the historical sources we have found.

Who invented falernum?

If you start looking for an answer, there are contradictory statements. On the one hand, the barbadian Henry Parkinson is said to have invented falernum. Around 1750, he is said to have combined rum with ground almonds, brown sugar, clove powder, ginger root and crushed limes. So reports his great-great-grandson Artur Stansfield, who began producing falernum and exporting it to the USA in 1934. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] But John D. Taylor also claimed to have invented the original Falernum in 1890. [2] [3] [5] [6] But there are also voices that say that falernum was a drink that originated among the people, that there were no inventors and that each family had its own recipe. [6]

Based on our research, we can definitely rule out the possibility that falernum was an invention of John D. Taylor. Nor was he the first to commercialise falernum and put it on the market. We also have doubts about Artur Stansfield’s story, because as our analysis will show, not all the ingredients he mentions were grown in the West Indies around 1750. So either his ancestor’s recipe was different, or imported ingredients were used (which we think is rather unlikely), or – and this is the conclusion we are leaning towards – it is an invention to give his product a historical background.

We are of the opinion that falernum is rather a drink that has no defined inventor, but developed gradually. This is also suggested by the historical sources that we will quote in the following.

Which historical sources are there?

We have set out to find historical evidence in order to be able to answer the questions posed earlier more correctly.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 2. August 1896.
Philadelphia Inquirer, 2. August 1896. [3]

Falernum is described in the Philadelphia Inquirer of 2 August 1896. It states:„Falernum is a West Indian drink and is used about an hour before dinner as an appetizer. It is made of Jamaica rum, three pints, lime juice or lemon juice, one pint, sugar syrup, two pints and water four pints or as they say in the West Indies „One pint of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.“ Bitter almonds are added to give further flavor. The decoction is allowed to stand for a week and is then poured off into bottles. It is taken with a little wormwood in glasses filled with cracked ice; the limit being the contents of a liquor glass. For wormwood good bitters may be substituted, and it is essential that the rum be absolutely pure.“ [3]

The Salt Lake Herald, 2. August 1896, page 2.
The Salt Lake Herald, 2. August 1896, page 2. [11]

Also on 2 August 1896, the Salt Lake Herald writes: „Falernum is a very delightfull concoction which the West Indian, mindful of his health, takes in sips, and swallows at least once a day, and that about an hour before his dinner. “An appetizer,” he calls it. The beverage is quite as pleasant to the palate as its name would suggest and it is very easily made; there is an obstacle to its perfect success which just here occurs to me, that the West Indies is the place for pure rum and that in America it is extremely difficult to get the genuine article. A small flask labeled “Jamaica Rum” and for which a goodly price was paid, formed part of the furnishings of my traveling bag when I voyaged not so very long ago, to the far-off islands of the Carribean sea. The contents of the flask, I am sorry to say, when tested were found wanting, tested, by the way, with a hollow glass globe not bigger than a pea. However this is not falernum. “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak” such is the recipe as given by the West Indian housewife. Explained, enlarged and annotated, it resolves itself thus: One pint of sour, that is lime Juice or lemon juice; two pints of sweet, that Is of sugar; three pints of strong that Is rum (the best you can get); four pints of weak, that Is, water. Flavor the concoction with bitter almonds. Let it stand in a cask for a week or so, then pour off in bottles. When comes the occasion for trying its merits put in a small glass cracked ice, falernum, water and a teaspoonful of wormwood, which has been previously infused, and put In alcohol. For wormwood good bitters may be substituted. The falernum is even taken without the addition of water or wormwood, but only a much as a liquer glass will hold. Rum, when it is pure, is strength-giving, and the bitters naturally add to us virtues as an appetizer. What is known throughout the islands islands as the “West Indian cocktail” is a mingling of lime juice, sugar, rum, water and bitters In a hot climate bitters. In a hot climate a “bitter” is almost a necessity, if not daily, at least occasionally, and “have you taken your bitters?” is a common household question.“ [11]

On 25 July 1891, The Pacific commercial advertiser also wrote about Falernum, [12] but this is a verbatim quotation from Greville John Chester’s 1869 book Transatlantic Sketches, which we will discuss later.

One interesting thing about these two sources is that falernum is said to consist only of rum, lime, sugar, water and almonds. There is no mention of other spices or ginger. We will go into this problem in more detail later. Secondly, the sources do not say that falernum is something that comes from Barbados, but from the West Indies in general. So does falernum not come from Barbados at all? This is a difficult question. While it is commonly claimed, no one has substantiated it with evidence. Perhaps it is just assumed, since, for example, John D. Taylor and his Velvet Falernum, which is still available today, originated in Barbados? Artur Stansfield’s Falernum also came from Barbados. So are there any other, and especially older, sources that can give us information here?

The Jamaica Stand at the London Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886
The Jamaica Stand at the London Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886. [7]

In 1886, the Colonial and Indian Exhibition was held in London. This exhibition was held in South Kensington to stimulate trade and strengthen ties within the British Empire. This exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria and over the following six months some 5.5 million visitors attended the exhibition. [8] [9] The exhibition catalogue is interesting. There, the exhibited products of the colonies are listed. Among them is falernum.

Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 429, Tobago.
Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 429, Tobago. [9-429]

On page 429 we read that falernum is “A liqueur made with rum, lime juice, water, and sugar”. There is no mention of almonds, ginger or spices here. According to this description, one can imagine the Falernum as a kind of rum punch. It is also stated which exhibitors presented the Falernum. It is also very interesting that they are not from Barbados – where Falernum is said to have originated – but from Tobago! But exhibitors from other West Indian islands, including Barbados, are also represented with falernum. Overall, the exhibition catalogue gives these references:

Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 386, Jamaica.
Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 386, Jamaica. [9-386]

Page 386, Jamaica:
DESNOES, P., & SON. – Ginger Wine (white). Ginger Wine (coloured). Orange Wine. Orange Juice. Fallernum. Bitters. Peppermint Cordial. Aniseed Cordial. Pimento Dram. Noyeau. Parfait Amour. Rosolio.” [9]

Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 409, Barbados.
Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 409, Barbados. [9-409]

Page 409, Barbados:
BELFIELD, A. Liqueurs, &c., Cordials. (22.) Falernum, white.
HUTCHINSON, G. W., & CO. (23) Falernum, white.
CARTER & CO. (24.) Falernum, white.
PETERSON, C. R. (25.) Falernum, white.Phalernum
CARTER, A. P. (26) Falernum, white. (27.) Falernum, golden.[9]

Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 429, Tobago.
Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 429, Tobago. [9-429]

Page 429, Tobago:
“13. Falernum. A liqueur made with rum, lime juice, water, and sugar. (a) A. Murray. (b) J. D. Kerwood. (c) H. H. Sealy. (d) Mrs T. Newton Browne. (e) R. B. Anderson. (f) Messrs. John McCall & Co.[9]

Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 438, Antigua.
Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, page 438, Antigua. [9-438]

Page 438, Antigua:
“Phalernum.” [9]

Falernum was produced in the West Indies in 1886, as described in the newspaper article of 1896, from Jamaica in the east to Barbados in the west and Tobago in the south.

Whether falernum was only produced in Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua and Tobago cannot be said.

Falernum in the West Indies 1886.
Falernum in the West Indies 1886.

Although there were no falernum producers from the Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and Trinidad at the exhibition, this does not mean that falernum was not drunk and produced locally there. It can be assumed that falernum was present even in Jamaica.

But this does not automatically mean that falernum is not a Barbadian invention, as is rum. From there, it could have spread quickly to the other islands, where it was also produced for personal use. At any rate, the oldest source we could find in which falernum is described speaks in favour of this. In 1869, Greville John Chester published his book “Transatlantic Sketches: In the West Indies, South America, Canada and the United States”. There he describes a Barbadian scene on pages 81 and 82:

John Greville Chester - Transatlantic sketches. 1869, page 81-82.
John Greville Chester – Transatlantic sketches. 1869, page 81-82. [10]

„A kind of harvest-home generally takes place at the end of the crop-gathering upon each estate. A cart laden with the last canes is drawn by mules decorated with ribbons, and attended by a crowd of labourers; the principal women being attired in white muslin. The mill and other estate buildings are gay with coloured kerchiefs which do duty as flags. Some ancient negro is put forward to make a speech to the planter, which he often does with considerable humour and address. Then the planter replies, and a glass of “falernum” — a beverage compounded of rum, lime-juice, and syrup — is handed round to each. Then dancing begins, and is carried on to a late hour to the sound of fiddles and a tambourine. Sometimes the proceedings are varied by the introduction of a “trash man,” a figure, i.e. stuffed with cane trash and tied upon the back of a mule, which, being finally let loose, gallops about with his incongruous burden, to the great delight of the spectators.“ [10]

George Pinckard - Notes on the West Indies, 1806, page 324-325.
George Pinckard – Notes on the West Indies, 1806, page 324-325. [13-324] [13-325]

We have found another older reference to falernum, from 1806. In his book “Notes on The West Indies”, on pages 324 to 325 of the third volume, George Pinckard writes: “Garden-Eden is an extensive sugar estate, belonging to Mr. T. Cuming, a rich planter of much merit, and of great influence in the colony. It is under the management of a Mr. Boyce, by whom we were received with
greetings worthy the prevailing hospitality of Guiana, treated with an excellent supper, and Falernum wine, and accommodated in great comfort until morning.” [13-324][13-325] Reading about the course of the journey on the previous pages, this plantation must be somewhere near Oest Vriesland, situated on the Demerara River, about 10 kilometres from Georgetown. This river in Guyana rises from the tropical rainforest and flows into the Atlantic at Georgetown. [14] [15] The plantation still exists today. [21]

Unfortunately, this source does not tell us anything more about the falernum served there. However, since it is called falernum wine, one can imagine that an Italian wine was served. In Campania, Falerno del Massico is still cultivated today. [16] But perhaps it was also a rum-based falernum? In the past, mezcal was also called wine, namely “vino de mezcal”. So it could be that the term “wine” was therefore also used for a low alcoholic drink based on rum. However, if one looks at the circumstances of the hospitality, this seems rather unlikely. The finest was served in order to entertain the guests, and in a rich household an imported Italian wine would have been just good enough.

But perhaps this note gives us a clue as to where rum-based falernum might have got its name. If we assume that the rich planters drank their imported Falernian wine, falernum, perhaps the poorer classes also wanted to enjoy it. But since they could not pay for or obtain the imported goods, they simply called a rum-based drink falernum as well, in order to give a certain glamour to the enjoyment of the same. We do not know this, but it is at least a good story.

Since when were the ingredients available?

One source asked when almonds had been available in the West Indies and when they could have been used as an ingredient in falernum at the earliest. [3] This inspired us to ask about the other classic ingredients. Here, too, a look at the exhibition catalogue of the “Colonial and Indian Exhibition” from 1886 helps. We find there the indication that the West Indies presented themselves not only with ginger and lime, but also with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, and almonds were also present. [8] So by 1886 at the latest, all the ingredients were already grown there. We have our doubts about the almonds, because on page 401 the almond tree is identified as Terminalia Catappa, [8] i.e. the catappa tree (also called sea almond tree, Indian almond or badam). [22] Presumably, therefore, the exported almonds are not the almonds used in falernum today.

A look at the five volumes and fifth edition of Bryan Edwards, who died in 1800, “The history, civil and commercial of the British West Indies”, which was published with extensions in London in 1819, gives us information about the cultivation of various plants. In the second volume, the clove tree is reported on from page 374. In Dominica, the first attempt was made to plant a clove tree in 1789. More plants were bought and the first cloves were harvested in 1793. [17] On page 364 it is stated that ginger was already brought to Hispaniola by the Spaniards, by Francisco de Mendoza, at a very early date, and that by the time the book appeared, ginger was no longer considered something exotic in the West Indies. Large quantities of ginger were exported to Spain as early as 1547. [17] About allspice we learn that this tree grows wild in Jamaica and that about 6,000 sacks of 112 pounds each are exported to Great Britain annually, and that Jamaica is the only colony that exports allspice. [17] This had changed by 1886, as we know from the exhibition catalogue. Cinnamon was also already being grown. On page 373 it is written in a footnote that cinnamon and cloves could be added to the export goods of the West Indies. Plantations had been made, and although they were still in their infancy, enough had already been produced, of a quality to rival the other producers, so that it had now been shown that they could also be successfully grown in the West Indies. [17] Limes are also already exported from Antigua, as we can see from an export list on page 612. [17] The work is silent about nutmeg and almonds. [17] This is not surprising, since the first nutmeg trees were not planted in Grenada until 1843. [18] [19] [20]

George Pinckard reports on Barbados in 1806 in the first volume of “Notes on the West Indies” on pages 315 to 316: „I should have told you that in the course of our long ride we had the opportunity of seeing a very extensive variety of the vegetable productions of the tropical world; and that we met with multitudes of trees, shrubs and plants, that were not before familiar to us — and many which were wholly new to our observation. Among those which most attracted our attention were the pimento, wild cinnamon, ginger, cassia, cassada, banana, plantain, tamarind, cashew apple, mango, sapadillo, papaw, mammee, soursop, goava, grenadillo, water lemon, oranges, limes, lemons, shaddock, forbidden fruit, the aloe, logwood, mahogany, cedar, and lignum vitae. The great staple productions of the Weft Indies, — sugar, cotton, and coffee, were also brought frequently before the eye, during this interesting excursion.“ [24] So we see that in Barbados around 1806 there were limes, ginger, allspice and wild cinnamon. The latter will have been something quite different from the real Ceylon cinnamon; the Dutch cinnamon monopoly was only broken by the British from 1796 onwards, when the latter took over the rule of Ceylon.

As far as limes are concerned, it can be said that they were probably brought to the West Indies by Christopher Columbus as early as 1493. [25]

Conclusion

Finally, we would like to summarise the results of our research.

The oldest record of falernum is in Guyana in 1806, but this is likely to be falernum wine.

The rum-based drink is first mentioned in 1869, at a harvest festival in Barbados. Based on this reference, we may assume that falernum was commonly drunk on the sugar cane plantations. We also get the first surviving recipe. According to this, falernum is made from rum, lime juice and (sugar) syrup.

The next most recent reference to falernum is found 17 years later in 1886 in the exhibition catalogue of the “Colonial and Indian Exhibition”. Falernum was produced in at least four British colonies at this time. There is one falernum producer named in Jamaica, five in Barbados, six in Tobago and it is also produced in Antigua. This suggests that falernum was a popular traditional drink not only in Barbados, but in the West Indies in general; otherwise, it does not explain why so many falernum producers suddenly existed outside Barbados. The exhibition catalogue explains what falernum is. It is written that it is a liqueur made from rum, lime juice and sugar. In 1896, American newspapers also told us what falernum was and that it was a drink from the West Indies. Here it was made from Jamaican rum, lime or lemon juice and sugar syrup, with the addition of bitter almonds.

We must conclude that Falernum is a drink inspired by the classic punch, made from rum, lime, sugar and water, with an alcohol content of slightly less than 20% by volume.

Almonds were not native to the West Indies, they are only mentioned from 1896 onwards, and so we can assume that the recipe changed over time, and almonds were added later. There is also no mention of spices anywhere in the sources. But it is easy to imagine that some of them were added, but just not mentioned. Spices are also an important addition to punch. Ginger has been cultivated in the area since the 16th century. Allspice originated in the region. Limes were available since the 15th century, as was sugar cane, from which rum was first made in Barbados in the mid-17th century. Cinnamon and clove, on the other hand, were not cultivated until the end of the 18th century.

Where falernum comes from, we cannot determine exactly. It certainly comes from the West Indies, but we have not found any evidence that it was invented in Barbados.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine when falernum was first prepared. If it existed before 1800, cloves and cinnamon were almost certainly not an ingredient, but allspice, which also has cinnamon and clove flavours, is likely to have been used. Almonds are also likely to be a modern addition to falernum, they are mentioned late and apparently were not cultivated on the islands.

We do not know where the name comes from, but we can assume that there is a connection to the imported Falernum wine from Italy, and that the name was intended to lend the drink a certain nobility. In any case, this seems to us to be the most conclusive derivation.

Since there is no inventor and thus no original recipe for falernum, but rather each family seems to have had its own recipe that was individually adapted and changed, there is also no exact definition of what a falernum is. Today it is agreed that besides rum and lime, almonds should be used, as well as spices such as cinnamon, clove, allspice and ginger. But since there is no exact definition, it is impossible to say when exactly a falernum is a falernum, even with today’s products, and this opens up room to develop the most diverse recipes, all of which may claim to be a falernum.

Sources:
  1. Thomas Majhen: Die Barfibel. Kapitel: Falernum. ISBN 978-3-8442-5233-0. Berlin, 2012.
  2. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/falernum-the-elusive-cocktail-syrup-to-name-drop-at-your-next-party-7673835/: Falernum: The Elusive Cocktail Syrup to Name Drop At Your Next Party. By K. Annabelle Smith, 29. January 2013.
  3. http://www.artofdrink.com/ingredient/falernum: Falernum. By Darcy O’Neil, 17. February 2016.
  4. https://books.google.de/books?id=zDM8K7LFqIoC&pg=PT84&dq=Barbados++Falernum&hl=en&sa=X&ei=AMkGUffTCYaviALMrIHoCw&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Barbados%20%20Falernum&f=false: Harry S. Pariser: Explore Barbados. 3. Auflage. ISBN 1-893643-51-4. San Francisco, Manatee Press, 2000.
  5. http://www.tikiroom.com/tikicentral/bb/viewtopic.php?topic=29635&forum=10&vpost=757421: Falernum history & recipe. 17. January 2016.
  6. http://thecocktailcircuit.blogspot.de/2006/06/barbados-in-bottle.html: Barbados in a Bottle. By Joseph F. Mailander, 12. June 2006.
  7. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jamaica_at_the_Colonial_and_Indian_Exhibition,_London_1886.jpg: Jamaica at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London 1886.
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_and_Indian_Exhibition: Colonial and Indian Exhibition.
  9. https://archive.org/stream/cihm_05255: Anonymus: Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886. Official catalogue. London, William Cloves and Sons, 1886.
  10. https://archive.org/stream/cihm_00602#page/81/mode/2up/search/falernum: Greville John Chester: Transatlantic sketches [microform] : in the West Indies, South America, Canada and the United States. London, Smith, Elder & Co., 1869.
  11. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058130/1896-08-02/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1789&index=0&rows=20&words=falernum+Falernum&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1949&proxtext=falernum&y=14&x=15&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1: Falernum. The Salt Lake Herald, 2. August 1896, page 2.
  12. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85047084/1891-07-25/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=1789&index=3&rows=20&words=falernum&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1949&proxtext=falernum&y=14&x=15&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1: The Pacific commercial advertiser. July 1891.
  13. https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.33412/2015.33412.Notes-On-The-West-Indies–Vol3#page/n347/mode/2up/search/falernum: George Pinckard: Notes On the West Indies. Band 3. London; Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1806.
  14. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demerara_River: Demerara River.
  15. https://mapcarta.com/19096482: Vriesland.
  16. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falerner: Falerner.
  17. https://books.google.de/books?id=-8E-AAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=de&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false: Bryan Edwards: The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British West Indies. Band 2. 5. Auflage. London, T. Miller, 1819.
  18. http://www.grenada-history.org/nutmeg.htm: The Nutmeg Story.
  19. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muskatnussbaum: Muskatnussbaum.
  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grenada: Grenada.
  21. https://mapcarta.com/19102994: Garden of Eden.
  22. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katappenbaum: Katappenbaum.
  23. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lanka#Kolonialzeit: Sri Lanka – Kolonialzeit.
  24. https://archive.org/stream/notesonwestindi01pincgoog#page/n384/mode/2up/search/cinnamon: George Pinckard: Notes On the West Indies. Band 1. London; Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1806.
  25. https://www.britannica.com/plant/lime: Lime. Tree and fruit, citrus genus.
  26. http://bar-vademecum.de/chronologie-rum-rhum_agricole-cachaca/: Chronologie des Rums, Rhum Agricoles und Cachaças.

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About

Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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