Bringing It Back Bar: How to Use Allspice Dram

In "Bringing It Back Bar," we shine a light on overlooked bottles and devise recipes to take them from back bar to front shelf. Up now: allspice dram.

Once an elusive ingredient known for its mention in historic recipes, allspice dram has been revived in recent years. Built on the flavor of the allspice berry—which takes its modern name from its all-inclusive flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove—the namesake Jamaican liqueur has long been used to add complexity to a number of tropical tiki classics, including Three Dots and a Dash and Navy Grog.

But tiki bartenders came up against a challenge in the early 1980s, when Wray & Nephew, then the sole commercial producer of allspice dram, halted exportation to the U.S. “It was not to be found anywhere in the U.S. for the first 15 years that I spent hunting down and publishing ‘lost’ tiki drinks,” recalls Jeff “Beachbum” Berry of New Orleans tiki bar, Latitude 29. “My first four books had to include a make-your-own allspice dram recipe.”

St. John Frizell of Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance recalls a similar experience in the early 2000s: “It was one of those things that I had run into a couple of times in recipes, but I had sort of written [it] off as like ‘Oh, I’ll never see that.’”

That all changed in 2008, when Haus Alpenz began importing an Austrian-made version called St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, a simple mixture of allspice, raw sugar and Jamaican pot-stilled rum. It became an instant success.

Today, other versions have become available, including those from The Bitter Truth and Hamilton. Its applications have expanded as well: Bartenders use it in tiki classics, as well as modern drinks, most often as a means of deepening the flavor of a drink.

“The result can be everything from aromatic to bizarrely tactile and drying,” explains Kirk Estopinal of the new-school tiki bar Cane & Table. In his Full Sun recipe, Estopinal uses a half-ounce of allspice dram to bring baked spice notes to the quasi-tropical mixture of vodka, coconut milk and lime juice.

Berry dials it back further, using the liqueur as an aromatic accent in his Ancient Mariner. To a split rum base—part Jamaican rum, part demerara rum—and fresh citrus juices (lime and grapefruit) he adds a quarter-ounce of allspice dram, which brings a richness and depth of flavor to a relatively simple rum sour template.

A little also goes a long way in Frizell’s Three Scots and a Dash, a whiskey-based take on the tiki favorite; a mere barspoon of allspice dram holds its own against the peated notes of Laphroaig. “It’s really like bitters,” says Frizell, “you’re using it like salt and pepper.” 

Estopinal agrees. “Subtly using it,” he says, “is an art form.”

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