Updated: Nov 2, 2020



My fellow Coming to America fans likely picked up the title reference. But for those of you who didn’t, here’s a masterpiece for your viewing:


While I could watch clips from that movie for hours (or just watch the entire movie), it's time to examine the world of Falernum, and, in particular, John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum. If you would rather watch us discuss John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum, explore the history of Falernum, and make two cocktails with Velvet Falernum, then please click on the following video.

The vague history of Falernum

Falernum is a syrup that originated in Barbados. Or, at least that what most spirit scholars believe. Falernum is adored for its bouquet of cloves, almond, ginger, lime, and sugar. That’s practically a one-bottle Tiki bar! There are both alcoholic and nonalcoholic versions of Falernum. The former is made with rum.

Barbadian families have made Falernum for generations. In an New York Times article, A.V. Stansfeld said that his distillery uses his great-great grandmother’s recipe dating back to the 1750s.

In researching this article, I found Darcy O’Neil’s outstanding article on Falernum. In that article, he debunks many of the earlier myths about Falernum. We used his article as a major source for this portion of the article, and thus want to acknowledge his work. During his research, he found a Philadelphia Inquirer article published on August 2, 1896, and titled “Falernum,” which included a recipe for Falernum. According to Darcy, the Falernum recipe is a punch style recipe. Darcy also encountered the same article published in the Kansas City Star on August 13, 1896, and titled “A West Indian Appetizer.” The interesting thing about the Kansas City Star article is the article’s reference to the mixing of Falernum with a teaspoon of wormwood bitters. Wormwood is the key ingredient in absinthe, which we previously wrote about.

While this article is about John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, it’s important to briefly discuss Tiki since Falernum is a quintessential Tiki cocktail ingredient.

The birth of Tiki

In 1933, Earnest Raymond Beaumont Gantt opened a 24-seat bar in Hollywood with a driftwood sign reading “Don’s Beachcomber.” While elegant, tropical-themed nightclubs already existed in Hollywood, Don’s Beachcomber Café was different. Here, the drinks were the star of the establishment. Exotic drinks were presented in coconuts and other lavish vessels, and those drinks showcased flavors that were unknown to most patrons at that time.

Earnest's backstory is a fascinating one, and one day we’ll write about him and some of his famous cocktails. But today’s article is about Velvet Falernum so we will continue on that journey. With one last note, Earnest legally changed his name to Donn Beach. How awesome is that?

Tiki’s decline and the loss of Falernum

After decades of Tiki craze, the late 1960s brought about the decline of Tiki bars. There are many reasons for why the Tiki fad died out, but one stands out more than othersthe Vietnam War. As Martin Cate stated in his book:

To spend a meal being served by a desultory white waiter in

a coolie in the Saigon Room of Kon-Tiki Ports, and

find yourself shipped out the next day to kill people

in coolie hats . . . needless to say, the allure was lost.

The loss of Tiki bars resulted in the loss of Falernum. Some companies, like the Sazarac company, stopped making Falernum altogether. Importers also dropped foreign brands, like John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, because of the lack of demand.

It wasn't until the late 1990s, with the emergence of craft cocktail scene, that demand for Falernum increased enough for importers to take notice. Now, there’s a couple Falernums on the market, but we reach for John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum.

John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum

John D. Taylor claims to have invented Falernum in 1890, but it’s more likely that he was the first to commercialize the product. Still, John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum is the gold standard. It comes in at 11% ABV.

In an interview with Punch, legendary bartender and author Dale DeGroff recollected about his introduction to John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum:

I ordered a case of the Sazerac [Falernum]. It was brown and maderized.

I didn’t know there was anything wrong until I tasted it. It was ghastly.

I wrote the stuff off at that point and just forgot about it. It wasn’t until

the ex-president of United Distillers was at my bar and ordered a rum

swizzle with falernum that I found out the truth. “That’s not falernum.

Give me your address; I’ll send you the real thing.” He had a place in Barbados

and sent me a six-pack case of 1½-liter John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum.

I loved it and whipped through that case in no time.

In 1993, the R.L. Seale Rum company acquired the John D. Taylor brand. Up to that point, the Seale’s family had been producing their own Falernum. However, once the family acquired John D. Taylor, they discontinued bottling the Seale family Falernum recipe.

Around the turn of the century, Dale DeGroff asked the importer Charmer to bring John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum to the US. According to Richard Seale, there was very limited success with Charmer. Seale then connected with the incredible importer, Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz, and Haus Alpenz began importing Velvet Falernum in 2009. Seed deserves the credit for putting Velvet Falernum in the hands of the right bars and restaurants. Demand took off from there.

R.L. Seale (Foursquare Distillery)

Since we owe R.L. Seale credit for exporting John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, I’ll provide a few additional words about this fourth generation, family-owned Barbados distillery. Seale is famous for its rum. Some of its rum sells for triple the list price on the secondary market, so if you come across R.L. Seale rum, it’s worth a purchase.

And now, the cocktails!


Corn ‘N Oil

1/2 ounce John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum

2 ounces blended aged rum (preferably from Barbados)

2-4 dashes Angostura bitters

Add all the ingredients to an old-fashioned glass and fill with crushed ice. Stir.

There are numerous versions of the Corn ‘N Oil. In fact, the back label of John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum provides a recipe for a Corn ‘N Oil that is very close to the recipe above. Here, we follow Smuggler's Cove’s recipe. Smuggler’s Cove’s owners, Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate, wrote a phenomenal book, SMUGGLER’S COVE Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, which not only provides great cocktail recipes but also details all things rum and Tiki. They spell the cocktail’s name differently (i.e., Corn and Oil), but the recipe above is 100% theirs. And it’s delicious!


Next up . . .



Chartreuse Swizzle

1/2 ounce John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum

1 1/2 ounce Green Chartreuse

3/4 ounce fresh lime juice

1 ounce pineapple juice

Fresh nutmeg

Sprig of mint

Combine all ingredients, except the nutmeg and mint, in a Collins glass. Fill the

glass with crushed ice until it is three quarters full. Swizzle. Top up

with additional ice to fill the glass. Grate nutmeg and add mint garnish.

In 2002, Marcovaldo Dionysos created the Chartreuse Swizzle for a Chartreuse sponsored cocktail competition. He won the competition and this delicious cocktail has since become a modern classic.


If you've been following us for a while, you already know our love for Green Chartreuse. If you're new to our website, or Chartreuse in general, please check out our article on this incredible elixir.


Final thoughts

There are plenty of other cocktails that require Falernum. Maybe you’ve heard of the Zombie. Not only does that classic cocktail use Falernum, but it is also Donn Beach’s most famous connection.

Also, feel free to use John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum in lieu of simple syrup in recipes that call for simple. However, be cognizant of the clove, almond, and ginger flavors that Falernum brings to the party. Plus, Velvet Falernum adds booze so it's not an exact swap.


There are some, like the creator of the meme below, who look down on such a use of Falernum, but we’re not worried about that. It makes great drinks!


Sending codebreaking love,


John

  • The Reynas

Updated: Nov 21, 2020



There are a lot of lovely bitter liqueurs out there. Suze was introduced to me as the French version of Campari, which, honestly, doesn’t do it justice. Not that Campari isn’t amazing, it is! Why else would we write about it? But Suze and Campari are uniquely different. They both have a balance of amazing bitter and sweetness. However, Suze showcases a herbal complexity and intensity of aromatics that isn't as easily discernible in Campari.


Similarly, the were both created as an aperitif. Both colors distinguish their use in a cocktail. But that’s where the similarities end.


We have two video versions of this post on our YouTube Channel, each with a different cocktail demonstration included:



Profile


Suze is made from wild gentian root grown in the French Alps. It packs bittersweet herbs into a clear, but brightly distinctive golden yellow liqueur. Suze brings flavors of vanilla, candied orange peel, lemon, honey, and spice.


Gentian Root


Humans evolved thinking was bitter was poisonous and should be spit out. But the early medicinal community thought this may actually be good for you. Bitterness increases the production of saliva and digestive juices, which could actually be useful in expelling toxins and moving digestion along.


Spirits distilled from gentian root began being produced in the mid 1700s and quickly became popular around the Swiss, German, and French Alps.


History


Fernand Moureaux inherited his family distillery in 1885. However, nearing bankruptcy, he needed a new idea to keep the distillery alive. He joined forces with his bank manager’s son to create a new style of aperitif. Most aperitifs at the time were made from wine, but they went after the growing bitter root market. Gentian root was already being used for a number of different products including Campari, Moxie Soda, and Angostura bitters.


Moureaux and his associate quickly created a unique product. By 1889, Suze was being commercially produced, and Fernand presented it at the world’s fair in Paris. Suze was awarded the gold medal.


In 1965, Pernod-Ricard took over production and researched environmentally friendly and efficient ways of cultivating gentian root. He made the process as natural as possible without the use of fertilizer or irrigation, while maximizing yields.


Where the name came from remains a mystery to this day.


The distillery


The original distillery was in Maisons-Alfort in northern France. Now it resides in Thuir, which is in the Pyrénées-Orientales at the very southern tip of France along the Mediterranean.


The Thuir distillery is in a beautiful structure that Gustave Eiffel designed. Perhaps you have heard of his tower? Still in style, its ceiling is made of corrugated iron, nuts, and bolts. The Thuir distillery also produces Byrrh and Pernod Absinthe. Add that to the list of places in France we need to visit!


Production


Suze has stuck with the original recipe and traditional production. This includes a mix of wild and farmed gentian root. There are two gentian farms focused on production. One is in Seine-Maritime, which is the Normandy region of coastal Northern France. The other is in Auvergne, a historic province in south central France.


Gentian Root farming in these areas date back to the year 197. However, it's a difficult crop that takes at best 10 years to mature. On top of that, gentian root needs constant protection from other crops and grass.


Once hand-picked, the gentian root is washed and trimmed. The root is then left to macerate in neutral alcohol for at least a full year. After, the root is pressed to extract all possible flavor. The gentian juice is then distilled a second time, a process unique to Suze. Finally, other aromatics are added in. Aged in well-seasoned casks for 18 months.


Cocktail time!


White Negroni

1 oz gin

1 oz Lillet Blanc

1 oz Suze

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Stir.

Strain the mixing glass contents into a chilled coupe.


We stick with equal proportions to honor a true Negroni. However, many recipes increase the gin by up to half an ounce and reduce the Suze down to ½ oz. If you don’t like bitter, this reduced recipe is a good way to introduce Suze.


This drink was supposedly invented in 2001 France when British bartender Wayne Collins could not find Campari or sweet rouge vermouth. Instead, he substituted Suze and Lillet Blanc (relatively sweet, white vermouth), two common French apertifs.


If you're interested in watching a quick cocktail demonstration of the White Negroni, checkout our YouTube channel:


Pennington Daquiri

1 oz. rhum agricole blanc ¾ oz. brandy (We used Cognac) ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice ½ oz. Suze ½ oz. honey syrup ¼ oz. simple syrup

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled.

Double strain into a chilled coupe, then garnish with orange twist.


This drink was created at Lost Hours, which was a bar in Koreatown in NYC. From the creators of the famed cocktail bar, Death & Co., Lost Hours did not survive the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. Lost Hours built a cocktail menu structured around the four elements of nature: Air, water, earth and fire. And with our powers combined…. JK you Captain Planet fans, but this is a seriously cool idea, and wish I had the chance to visit.


The Pennington Daiquiri fell into the earth section, bringing in vegetal and earth flavors. Beverage director, Tyson Buhler says, “The grassiness of rhum agricole balanced by the herbaceous flavor of Suze helps create a complex but easy-drinking Daiquiri-inspired cocktail.”


If you're interested in watching a quick cocktail demonstration on the Pennington Daiquiri, checkout our YouTube channel:


Final Thoughts


Suze is seriously fun. I love it with lemon or something citrusy to complement herbaceous goodness. But coming in at only 20% ABV, it is a great extra kick to add to your favorite boozier drinks. Add a splash to our next Old fashioned or martini, and please, report back.


Sending bright yellow love,

Shen


#WhiteNegroni

#gin

#LilletBlanc

#blancvermouth

#Suze

#PenningtonDaquiri

#rhumagricoleblanc #brandy

#Cognac #lemonjuice #honeysyrup #simplesyrup

#deathandco

#gentianroot

#apertif

#bitterliqueur


For most American wine consumers, Greek wine is as mythical as the demi-god Hercules. American consumers aren’t familiar with the names of Greek grapes or regions, which can make buying Greek wine a challenge. Part of the issue is that Greek wines have not been as plentiful on US soil as Italian and French wines. However, that problem is primarily due to Greeks consuming an astounding 95% of their native wine. With the limited number of Greek wines reaching our shores, most American consumers couldn’t find quality wines worthy enough to make an impression. For example, here in Texas, there wasn’t a supply of quality Greek wine until importers like R&R Selections came to our rescue.

Lucky for us, today, more Greek wines are being exported than ever before, especially wines of higher quality. Therefore, it’s important to learn where to seek out affordable, delectable Greek wines. This article will showcase one of our favorite Greek wine regions—the PDO Neméa. If you’re more of a visual person, Teakwood Tavern’s YouTube channel has you covered:



Greek mythology

If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, then Neméa might sound familiar. Hercules, as part of his twelve labors, was tasked with bringing King Eurystheus the skin of an invulnerable lion that terrorized the hills around Neméa. Spoiler alert: Hercules killed the Neméan lion. In ancient Greek paintings or sculptures, Hercules is often depicted wearing a lion skin, which is believed to be from the Neméan lion.


© Maria Daniels, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum


Because of Hercules' ties to Neméa, the wines of PDO Neméa are often nicknamed the Blood of Hercules.


Greek wine laws

Greek wine laws follow European Union guidelines for geographical indications. One tier is Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The next tier is Protected Geographical Indication (PGO).


© Domaine Skouras

PDO Neméa

The PDO Neméa was established in 1971. Neméa is located on Peloponnese, the large peninsula that hangs off the Greek mainland by the narrow Isthmus of Corinth. Neméa is about 20 miles southwest of Corinth. Neméa is the largest PDO in Greece with approximately 3,000 hectare under vine.Currently, there are no official subappellations within the PDO Neméa. However, there are villages or zones that have garnered attention due to their unique terroir.

Places like Koútsi, Asprókambos, Ancient Neméa, and Psari reflect the diversity of Neméa with varying altitudes, exposure, and soils. These villages are known for high elevation, even though some are higher than others. Asprókambos, for example, has vineyards planted at 2,800 feet above sea level.

Neméa is often described as being comprised of three zones based on altitude—valley floor, mid-elevation, and highest. The valley floor is known for basic wine. The mid-elevation has been the source of quality wine in the past, often in a richer, dramatic style. The highest zone, with some vineyards as high as 2,950 feet above sea level, is the area to shine in recent years. Still, the majority of wine is blended from several zones.

The only grape that can carry the PDO Neméa designation is Agiorgitiko. There are other grapes grown in the regions, but they must carry the broad Peloponnese designation.

Soil

Neméa is known for its marl and deep red soil. Marl is a calcium carbonate mud, which contains variable amounts of clays and silt. Marl provides exceptional drainage, which helps limit yields. Limestone is also prevalent throughout Neméa, but often deeper in the soil. The lowlands are very fertile, which is why this zone is known for bulk wine. The soils of the mid-elevation zone are shallower and rockier. The highest zone has the greatest amount of marl.

Climate

Generally, Neméa has a warm Mediterranean climate. But the vineyards in the higher altitudes are considerably cooler.


© Yiannis Karakasis


The grape—Agiorgitiko

If you see a bottle labeled PDO Neméa, then it must be produced from the varietal Agiorgitiko (Ah-yor-yeé-ti-ko). The word Agiorgitiko translates to St. George so it is often referred to as St. George’s grape. Agiorgitiko produces small, thick-skinned berries. Delicious primary red fruit (e.g., strawberry and red cherry) is a common characteristic in most representations. When grapes are left on the vine to ripen longer, black fruits emerge as well as higher tannins.

Wine styles

There is a plethora of wine styles produced in Neméa, which can make it difficult to know what you’re buying. Wines may be dry, medium sweet, and sweet. They also range from light, fruity, and immediately approachable (i.e., drinking window up to six years) to full-bodied, age-worthy (i.e., able to exceed ten years). Wines can be anywhere from medium bodied to full-bodied.

According to Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis, there is a growing trend amongst producers to create red wines with more finesse. We are thrilled with this trend. We prefer this style of reds in general. Many of the lighter wines are made by carbonic maceration, which extracts color from the grape but little tannin resulting in soft wines full of fruit.

Food pairing

Since Neméan wine is produced in many different wine styles, it’s not feasible to give pairing advice for every type wine. Thus, I’ll focus on wine we’re more likely to come across in the states, which is dry wine. Because of Agiorgitiko’s natural high acidity and the elevation in Neméa, it is a wonderful food wine. Pay attention to the alcohol because that will hint at the body of the wine. For wines under 13.5% ABV, pair with duck, poultry, tomato sauces, and cherry sauces. For wines with higher than 13.5% ABV, pair with steak, burgers, lamb, and richer sauces.

The future of Neméa

Things are looking bright for the PDO Neméa. According to Jancis Robinson, more high-tech wineries are being established in Neméa than any other Greek region. There is also an influx of young winemakers who have studied abroad, typically in France or the US, and are bringing advanced winemaking techniques to this historic region. The quality of wines will likely increase with this flood of capital and human talent.

Wines we tried for educational purposes


Domaine Skouras, 2017 Saint George Aghiorghitiko, Nemea $19


This dry wine was full of fruit and easily approachable. On the nose and palate, we found strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, sage, nutmeg, and cedar. Acidity was medium plus, and the tannins were medium. It was a medium-bodied wine with 13.5% ABV. The finish was in the low 20 seconds, which is perfectly fine for a $19 wine.



Domaine Skouras, 2014 Grand Cuvée, Nemea $34

This dry wine is Domaine Skouras’ next tier up from the wine mentioned above. The wine burst with flavors and aromas of cranberry, red cherry, blueberry, violet, earth, tobacco, baking spices, and anise. The acidity was medium plus and the alcohol was 13.5% ABV. The tannins were medium plus and elegant. The wine was medium-bodied and very well balanced. The delectable finish lasted in the low 30 seconds.



Palivou Estate, 2016 Single Vineyard Selection, Nemea $24

This dry wine was the biggest and boldest of the three. The tannins were high, and the alcohol was 14.5% ABV. On the nose and palate, we found cinnamon, black plum, black cherry, mushroom, licorice, asparagus, and lavender. The acidity was medium plus. The wine was full-bodied. The aggressive finish provided a finish in the low 30 seconds.


Final thoughts


We are always seeking out unique wines that don't get enough love but also don't break the bank. Greek wines definitely fit this profile, especially the wines from the PDO Neméa. We love the high acidity and fruit forwardness that these wines showcase. These are wonderful food wines, and there is a range of styles you could play with for pairings. Keep the lower alcohol versions in mind when you are planning your Thanksgiving meal!


Sending big fat love,

John


#redwine

#greekwine

#DomaineSkouras

#SaintGeorge

#Aghiorghitiko

#Nemea

#PalivouEstate

#PDONemea

#bloodofhercules

#carbonicmaceration

#Peloponnese

#RRselections