Making an allspice dram is simple and easy! Just grab some allspice berries, a bit of spirits from your bar, and you are on your way!
In this article, you will find all the necessary information to get you on the road to enjoying this unique liqueur. Be sure to add it in your next cocktail or culinary delight!
What is allspice dram?
Basically, allspice dram is an infused liqueur that is flavored with allspice berries. For some, it can also be classified as a bitter.
Imagine the aroma of cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and nutmeg steeped in a spirit like rum or brandy. Picture dark liquid amber wrapped in warm spices and you now have a sense of what an allspice dram is.
If you are someone who enjoys cocktails, then you may have tasted it before. Allspice dram is a key ingredient in many Tiki beverages from the 20th century and today.
Before this liqueur gained notoriety in the cocktail world, people in many cultures used the spice to flavor culinary dishes.
A bit of history
In 1493-1496, Columbus explored the Western Caribbean on his second voyage for Spain. In Jamaica, he came across what he thought was pepper, but in actuality, it was allspice!
The allspice berry is picked from the Pimenta Dioica tree before it is ripe. Then the berries are left out to dry in the sun until the seeds rattle inside.
Since they thought the spice was pepper, they named it Pimiento, which means pepper or peppercorn in Spanish. The difference between the two, is the allspice berry is a fruit that comes from a tree and pepper is a fruit that comes from a vine.
The berry has been given many names over the centuries and by many cultures. By 1621, the English named the berry allspice because of the combined flavors of cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and nutmeg.
Today you can find allspice in Jamaican jerk seasonings, Central American mole sauces, Middle Eastern stews, Scandinavian Swedish meatballs, and more. In the British Isles, allspice flavored gravies, stews, meats, and more. While today, Americans tend to use the spice in desserts like pumpkin pie and gingerbread.
As time went on, allspice traveled the globe and found its way into medicine. Herbalists used allspice in home remedies to help with colds, headaches, fatigue, and more. Today, scientists are exploring the essential oils in the berries for treating various medical conditions like cancer.
Finally, it is no wonder that allspice found its way into drinks over the years too.
Tincture vs. Dram
Is allspice dram really a dram or is it more like a tincture? Let’s take a look at the meaning of both terms to get a better perspective.
As mentioned above, a tincture is described as an herbal extract made by soaking plant materials in alcohol. It is usually made for medicinal purposes and taken orally.
A dram is described as a small amount or portion to drink. It is usually a type of spirit like whiskey and consumed for enjoyment.
A dram was part of the apothecary system of measure and had been used in the US up through the middle of the 20th century. Since it is not an official measurement now, most describe a dram as any amount you can consume in a mouthful.
Therefore in my opinion, allspice dram is technically both a dram and tincture! The berry is steeped in liqueur for about two weeks and then a small amount is added to a cocktail or food to enjoy. Yum!
What is essence of allspice?
Essence of allspice is similar to an allspice dram with one exception, it uses the oil from the allspice berry instead of the whole berry as a flavoring. I found this interesting recipe in the 1830 book, The Cook’s Oracle and Housekeeping Manual by Dr. William Kitchiner.
As you can see, this recipe uses an oil of pimento to flavor the wine rather than using berries to infuse the alcohol. Also, did you notice the use of the word drachm, which is an alternative form of dram!
Whether you create a dram, tincture, or essence of allspice, it will be delicious in a cocktail or yummy dish you make.
Reasons to make this allspice dram
Over time, this recipe has gone by many names: allspice dram, allspice liqueur, pimento dram, pimento liqueur, etc. Whichever name you would like to use, be rest assured it is easy to make and fun to use!
Most recipes around the web call for rum as the base spirit. But, I suggest using brandy instead to make the best allspice dram!
Using rum as the base for this liqueur is understandable as rum is and has been a major product of Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, where allspice grows natively. However, I came across a recipe from The Cook’s Own Book (1832), in which it uses brandy as the base and refers to the results as a tincture.
The Cook’s Own Book was a popular cookbook during the early 19th century, with many editions seen up through 1860. The recipes are organized like an encyclopedia and is a mixture of American and British dishes.
Since the British regularly enjoyed French brandy and Caribbean rum during the 18th century, it is no surprise that recipes for both liquors are found in cookbooks from the early 19th century.
Therefore, I decided to modernize Mrs. Lee’s Tincture of Allspice, but adopt the popular moniker of dram for my version.
Mise en Place:
Allspice Dram prep
- Ingredients: gather a jar of allspice berries from your pantry or store and a bottle of brandy. I used an E & J VSOP version, no need to break out your best brandy here.
- Equipment: gather a mortar and pestle, mason jar, measuring cups, and bitter bottle.
- Prep: There is not too much preparation before starting this recipe except to check and make sure your allspice berries jar hasn’t expired!
Tools you’ll need
How to make an allspice dram
Grind allspice berries. Add 1/4 cup whole allspice berries to a mortar and pestle. Coarsely grind berries, don’t pulverize! The goal is to break up the berry to release the essential oils.
Combine berries and brandy. Put the coarsely ground berries into a pint mason jar. Then add 1 1/2 cups of brandy to the jar and secure the lid.
Shake and store jar. Agitate the contents in the mason jar and then store it in a cool dark cabinet for two weeks. Shake contents in jar every other day.
Strain allspice dram. After two weeks, use a sieve to strain liqueur and discard berries. Your allspice dram is ready to use! Note that the dram is quite intense, so a little will go a long way in a cocktail.
Store in bitter bottle. Your allspice dram will keep for six months and look fabulous on your bar in a bitter bottle. The taste may change over time, but will not spoil. Perhaps, you will enjoy the flavor even after six months!
You can add simple syrup to the allspice dram before bottling. This suggestion works well if you are hosting an event where you know you will need to use a good quantity of the dram. An allspice dram with the simple syrup added at bottling should be kept in the refrigerator and used within one to two weeks.
Allspice Dram: FAQ’s
Can you drink allspice dram straight?
Yes and no. In the above recipe, the infused allspice berries are quite strong. There is no added sugar to cut the bitter elements. DIY allspice dram recipes found using rum as the base, usually combine the simple syrup before bottling. Store bought varieties can definitely be drunk straight.
What does allspice dram taste like?
Well that depends! Using different alcohol bases can change the taste. If you add a teaspoon of simple syrup to a shot of the DIY allspice dram over ice, you get a nice Amaro! It tastes sweet and warm all at the same time! Delicious at any time of the year and especially enjoyed after a dinner meal as a digestif.
What is the shelf life of allspice dram?
An allspice dram made without added simple syrup at bottling can last up to 6+ months and it can be kept on your bar. However, if an allspice dram is bottled with the simple syrup, it should be used within 1 to 2 weeks and stored in the refrigerator.
Homemade allspice dram vs store bought?
If you have the time, are feeling creative, and want to save some money then making your own allspice dram is the way to go! On the other hand, if you are in a pinch and want a consistent taste, then store bought varieties are great. I highly recommend Cotton & Reed’s version which is fantastic on the rocks!
Best allspice dram recipe
- 375 ml bottle of brandy
- 1/4 cup whole allspice berries
- In a marble mortar and pestle, coarsely grind the berries and put into a pint canning jar
- Top berries with 12 ounces of brandy
- Secure canning lid on jar and shake contents
- Store dram in a cool dark place; like a kitchen cabinet
- Shake jar every other day
- Let dram steep for 2 weeks
- Strain the liqueur into a glass bitter bottle or swing top bottle; discard allspice berries
Recipe Tip: Experiment! Everyone’s taste buds are different, so try different liquor bases or add more spices when making an allspice dram. Have fun and see what you come up with
Allspice Dram Inspired Cocktails
Cocktails enhanced by an allspice dram can be enjoyed anytime of the year. There are many types to choose from: wine cocktails, tiki drinks, punches, etc. However, be forewarned as it easily transports you to cool fall evenings or curling up to a fire on a snowy day.
There are many variations of a Bishop that have been enjoyed over time. They usually all have wine, citrus, and spices in common. Some serve them warm like a mulled wine, others serve them cold like a sangria, while some add spirits and call them a cocktail.
The Bishop recipe from The Cook’s Own (1832) below provides a solid base for however you would like to serve it. It is enjoyable in its basic state and strengthened with the additions of rum, brandy, or spices.
As mentioned before, allspice dram saw a resurgence during the early 20th century in the form of Tiki cocktails like in the Nui Nui. Many of these delicious concoctions are due to the “founding father” of Tiki, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt who legally changed his name to Donn Beach.
Donn’s Tiki inspired bar, Don the Beachcomber, was a mid century Polynesian sensation. He kept his ingredients top secret and referred to them as Don’s spices, mixes, and dashes.
Through trial and error, Jeff “Beach Bum” Berry finally deciphered many of the top secret ingredients. Thanks to his investigated work, he figured out that Don’s Dash #9 was pimento dram a.k.a. allspice liqueur and finally cracked the code on the Nui Nui (Sippin’ Safari).
Prepared Brandy Punch
During the 18th century, Brandy was often used as the spirit for many punch recipes. 20th Century bartender Harry Craddock, shares pre-made punch recipes in his book, The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930).
In his recipe for Brandy Punch, he mentions using Tincture of Allspice. I did wonder if his tincture was brandy or rum based, as there is no mention in the book. Interestingly though, he does refer to the bottled elixir as an essence that only requires the addition of hot or cold water to create the punch.
Obviously, this recipe is for a large crowd and I can see the benefit batching has for a bartender who is in short supply of time when mixing drinks!
Now that you have your homemade allspice dram or favorite store bought variety ready, go ahead and enjoy sipping on these scrumptious drinks. Cheers!