The Cobra’s Fang and the Mystery of Fassionola Syrup
Make your own mystery syrup.
For years, much of the world of tiki was shrouded in mystery.
Tropical drinks with names borrowed or adapted from the tiki godfather Donn Beach were common, but if you ordered two Pearl Divers from two different bars — or even from two different bartenders at the same dive — you were likely to get two totally different drinks.
In part, that was due to a culture of sloppiness amongst bars and bartenders — hence, the rum-and-orange juice approach to drinks like the Hurricane. But in part it was because Beach, in his heyday, was famously secretive, hiding his bartenders behind a partition so that customers couldn’t see the drinks being made, and encoding the ingredients — designating the various bottles by number rather than by name — so that even his own bartenders wouldn’t be able to take the recipes elsewhere.
Of course, the recipes did escape, and various imitators copied Donn’s drinks, often using thinly veiled nods to his names. But even still, they weren’t widely known or easy to discover — that is, until Jeff “Beachbum” Berry began tracking them down, interviewing bartenders and their children, sampling obscure drinks at legacy tiki joints, and publishing those recipes in a series of books that would provide much of the backbone for the modern tiki revival.
Berry has a well-deserved reputation as a tiki cocktail innovator and restorationist, but I think of him another way: as an investigative journalist. Berry traveled, interviewed, examined primary sources, and uncovered hidden information, then made it accessible to the world. His forays into the origins of tiki were a form of public service journalism.
There is, however, at least one Donn Beach-era tiki ingredient that remains unknown: a syrup known as “fassionola” that figured into a number of Donn Beach originals, including this week’s drink, the Cobra’s Fang.
We still don’t have the precise recipe that Beach employed. But we do have a useful enough sense of what his fassionola was that we can make our own versions. Indeed, that rough sense in some ways makes this project more interesting and more fun for home bartenders, because it means that, while working within some guidelines, you have to adapt whatever recipe you use to your own preferences. This isn’t about slavishly replicating some prior recipe. Instead, it’s about making something that fits the bill and works in a drink, while understanding that there isn’t a single “correct” solution.
So for this week’s newsletter, we’re going to make a Cobra’s Fang with homemade fassionola syrup. And then, since we’re making a big batch of it, we’ll also use it retroactively in last week’s drink, the Hurricane.
Most of the tiki recipe books I own don’t mention fassionola at all. Smuggler’s Cove contains no index entry for it. Nor does it appear in Berry’s Beachbum Berry Remixed, Potions of the Caribbean, or Sippin’ Safari. It’s not, however, that Berry has never investigated it.