The first is a syrupy liqueur from Barbados that’s typically used in Tiki drinks. The second is a devilishly hot habanero tincture. They’re both key ingredients in a fantastic cocktail called the Spicy Dead Lady.
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John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum liqueur
Generically speaking, falernum can be either alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Wikipedia says the Caribbean syrup can “be thought of as a spicier version of orgeat syrup.”
One of the oldest falernum brands on the market, John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum tastes sweet and almond-y, but layers on flavors like clove and lime. The low-alcohol (11%), rum-based liqueur adds complexity and a thick, viscous feel to Tiki classics like the Zombie or traditional Barbados drink Corn ‘n’ Oil.
It’s not the most well-known liqueur, but during the COVID-19 lockdown, a lot of home cocktailers seem to be branching out. (Velvet Falernum was sold out for weeks around San Francisco.)
A little of this syrupy-sweet stuff goes a long way — it’s like a best supporting actor nominee who plays a small but essential role in a blockbuster. You’d never want to do a shot of falernum, but parking a bottle on the back of your home bar will leave you well-prepared the next time you fire up a great cocktail app like Highball and decide to take a relaxing detour to Tiki town.
Buy from: Bitters & Bottles
Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture
Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture, on the other hand, is anything but laid-back. Made by Scrappy’s Bitters, the small-batch bitters company out of Seattle, it packs a real punch.
It’s hot as heck, but it also imparts subtle flavors. Unlike just dumping in some hot sauce to spice things up, it won’t run roughshod over your delicate cocktail. In case you’re wondering, here’s the ingredients list from Scrappy’s: “alcohol (44.3%), distilled water, fresh habanero peppers, organic herbs and spices.”
Spicy Dead Lady cocktail
These two disparate ingredients come together in the Spicy Dead Lady cocktail. My wife found this recipe online, and it immediately became our new favorite quarantine cocktail. It’s one of those “four equal parts” cocktails like some of my other favorites (classics The Last Word and the Corpse Reviver No. 2).
For this one, which comes from Grant Wheeler of New York bar The Garret, you use the following:
3/4 ounce mezcal
3/4 ounce Aperol (the Italian bitter apéritif best known for the Aperol Spritz)
3/4 ounce falernum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1 dash of Scrappy’s Hellfire Bitters*
Toss everything in a cocktail shaker with a bunch of ice, shake it all up, then strain it into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a thin slice of lime and enjoy!
*Note: The Spicy Dead Lady ingredient list above, which comes from Imbibe, lists “Scrappy’s Hellfire Bitters.” I’m not sure if that’s a misprint or if Scrappy’s rolled out a different hot-as-hell product. The Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture works great in this recipe, although I add two dashes rather than just one. (C’mon, it says “spicy” right in the name!)
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