Why It Works
- Adding spices at different stages of the infusion allows the flavor compounds in the allspice berries and cinnamon to be fully extracted.
- Straining the infusion twice ensures the liqueur will be clear and ready for mixing into cocktails.
Allspice dram is a simple liqueur flavored with allspice berries. It's also known as pimento dram, because allspice is a berry from the pimento tree. (But pimento makes most people think of olives, so I don't like to call it that.) There's nothing like it. It's a big part of tiki drinks, adding a dark, strong, and spicy counterpoint to rum and sweet ingredients.
For years, allspice dram was damn-near impossible to find in the States. I get a little grumpy when there's a cocktail ingredient everyone is raving about and I can't find it anywhere. So a few years ago, just the mention of allspice dram made me a bit unpleasant to be around. I'd see recipes of fun drinks and get all excited, then I'd see that allspice dram was one of the ingredients and I would mope like a sad puppy.
The next phase of allspice dram envy was angry kitten hissing: "If it's so great, why can't I find it? It's probably stupid." Eventually, some kind soul in New Orleans made me an Ancient Mariner with allspice dram in it, and I suddenly knew what all the fuss was about.
What's Available to Buy
Wray & Nephew's allspice dram from Jamaica was the standard in the tropical drinks at bars like Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber, but the company stopped exporting it to the US in the early '80s. Many tiki fanatics say they've found it online, but the link chase led me to a dead end at a Reggae-themed shop that won't ship alcohol to the US or Canada. (They will, however, sell you some Jerk marinade and West Indies Cricket memorabilia no matter where you live.) I've never tasted the W & N dram myself, but a blog post by a guy whose cousin smuggled some in after his Caribbean cruise said it is amazing.
A few years ago, St. Elizabeth allspice dram came along to satisfy the growing demand for this tiki essential in a way that didn't involve international travel or subterfuge. Well-stocked liquor stores usually carry it at $25 to $30 for a 375-milliliter bottle, but this still isn't something you'll find next to the Kahlua and Baileys in most mainstream shops. The Bitter Truth Pimento Dram is even newer to the scene, though it's something most of us would have to order online. Both liqueurs are richly spiced with some bitterness, so a little goes a long way.
If I could go back in time and un-buy the St. Elizabeth so that I'd only have my DIY allspice dram at home, I would. This isn't because St. Elizabeth is bad—it's actually delicious. In fact, when I taste the commercial and DIY versions side by side, St. Elizabeth has a slight edge over homemade. But allspice dram isn't something you drink straight.
Once that cocktail shaker is out, I can't really tell the difference between the two. Saving money is rarely my motivation for DIY, but in this case, I just don't think the commercial version is worth the giant price difference. Buying allspice dram costs about five times as much as making it, and it definitely isn't five times better.
If you're a tiki fan, your bar may be incomplete without a store-bought bottle. But the casual drinker will be satisfied with the finished cocktails that come from homemade allspice dram.
Are you able to put things in a jar, boil some water, and wait? If so, you possess the skills necessary to craft this elusive ingredient. I bought the spices from the Latin section of the supermarket, and the amount I used in this recipe cost me under $2. So the big dollar investment in this project is the cost of a little brown sugar and a cup of rum. You can go moderately priced and common, like I did, with a cup of Bacardi, or get a little fancier with some Lemon Hart 151 and use demerara sugar. I kept the spice mix minimal, but you could have a lot of fun making it more complex with some cloves, star anise, or cardamom. It's fun and not at all risky to go crazy and play around with the possibilities.
The Ancient Mariner introduced me to allspice dram, so I'd recommend it as the inaugural cocktail for your DIY batch.
But it's not all tiki all the time with allspice dram. Rum isn't mandatory. The Jalisco Pear mixes in tequila and pear liqueur, and the Lion's Tail is a simple bourbon drink.
1/4 cup whole allspice berries
1 cup light rum
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup brown sugar
Crush allspice berries in a mortar and pestle or grind them in a spice grinder. You want coarse, large pieces and not a fine grind.
Place crushed allspice in a sealable glass jar and pour rum on top. Seal the jar and shake well. Let this mixture steep for 4 days, shaking daily. On day 5, break up the cinnamon stick and add it to the mixture.
After 12 days total steeping (see notes), strain out the solids through a fine-mesh strainer. Then strain again through a coffee filter into your final bottle or jar.
Heat water and sugar on medium until boiling, stirring to dissolve, about 5 minutes. Let syrup cool, then add it to the strained allspice infusion. Shake and let rest for a minimum of 2 days before using (see notes).
Mortar and pestle (or spice grinder), fine-mesh strainer, coffee filters
Unlike many DIY liqueurs, opening and sampling your allspice dram as you go isn't going to give you a good indication of what the final product will taste like. While it may smell strong (and taste strong) early in the steeping process, the extra time is necessary.
If you choose to substitute an overproof rum, you may need to let the final strained liqueur rest longer.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Store at room temperature for one to two months. It isn't going to spoil, but the flavor will change over time if you keep it too long.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 6g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||2%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|