Serious Eats: Drinks
DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Allspice Dram?
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 fun Tiki 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 obsessive, 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 on 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.
Get the Recipe
The Ancient Mariner introduced me to allspice dram, so I'd recommend it as the inaugural cocktail for your DIY batch.
Another fun, but even more elaborate choice is the Jbird Swizzle, which balances tart, sweet, floral, and spicy quite nicely. For something a little less complicated but a lot delicious, there's the Luoanlao with strawberries, rum, Campari, and lime.
About the Author: Marcia Simmons is the co-author of DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. She also shares cocktail recipes and tips on the DIY Cocktails blog and on Twitter @DIYCocktails.