Once an elusive ingredient known for its mention in historic recipes, allspice dram has proved itself as a versatile backbar staple in recent years. Built on the flavor of the allspice berry—which takes its modern name from the all-inclusive flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove that it channels—the namesake Jamaican liqueur has long been used to add complexity to a number of tropical tiki classics, including the 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 United States. “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 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 and Sunken Harbor Club, 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 still rum. It was an instant success.
Since then, other versions have become available, including those from The Bitter Truth and Hamilton. Its applications have expanded as well: Bartenders use it in classics such as the Victorian-era Agricole Rhum Punch, 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 New Orleans 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. Likewise, a measure of allspice dram complements the aged rum base of Miguel and Milo Salehi’s Miami Vice riff, the Miami Nice, adding a spicy character to the fruit-forward frozen drink.
Meanwhile, 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 lime and grapefruit juices, he adds a quarter-ounce of allspice dram, which brings a richness and depth of flavor to a relatively simple rum sour template.
Outside of tropical drinks, the liqueur has found its way into cold-weather cocktails, just as the namesake spice mixes into fall and winter food. An Italian take on the Lion’s Tail from Baltimore bartender Amie Ward uses allspice dram to balance out the drink’s rich bourbon base and bitter amaro, for example. And, to an already spicy base of rye, New Orleans’ Chris Hannah adds the liqueur, amplifying its flavor with allspice bitters in the Winter Waltz. Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Flannel Shirt is especially autumnal, combining Scotch, apple cider and rich Demerara syrup with allspice dram to cover the flavors of the season: apple, earth, spice and smoke. Morgenthaler says, “It reminds me of a hot drink that you’d have on Thanksgiving morning—only served cold.”
No matter the style of drink it’s incorporated into, allspice is best used sparingly. “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.”