Just over a year ago, in an article in the New York Times Magazine, Ted Haigh–otherwise known as “Dr. Cocktail”–made a pronouncement with such certainty and determination that I had no choice but to take it as gospel. While sorting through the contents of his extensive liquor cabinet, Haigh walks the writer through some of his most significant holdings.
…Doc has over the past decade and a half steadily amassed a library of some 900 spirits and liqueurs, most of them old, many of them long defunct. They include a pre-1913 bottle of Pernod absinthe that would sell for thousands of dollars today; a 1970’s bottle of Jamaican allspice liqueur (“the most important liqueur in the world!” Doc declared); and a Prohibition-era bottle of nonalcoholic gin that had given rise to a menacing blob of phlegmy hate floating near the bottom. [emphasis mine]
[click here for Doc's site, which contains a link for a PDF of this article]
Well, if you were a cocktail geek like me–and if you’ve read this far, then you probably are–then what would you do? You’d try to find some goddamn allspice liqueur, that’s what.
Problem is, this rare Jamaican product is not currently imported into the U.S. And since a trip to the Caribbean just isn’t in my immediate future, it looks like I’m completely out of luck.
Well, almost. True, obtaining a bottle of the authentic Wray & Nephew stuff doesn’t seem like it’s happening soon, but last February, Chuck Taggart listed a recipe for a homemade version on his site, the Gumbo Pages. (Chuck also refers to it by its other common name, Pimento Dram–pimento, of course, being the term for the allspice berries which give the liqueur its flavor, and having nothing whatsoever to do with those red things that stare up at you like the pupils of fish-eyes in your martini).
And so, after putting the project off while dealing with other mixological matters (falernum, gomme, several yet-to-be-posted experiments with ginger beer), last month I finally got the goods together and set forth to prepare my own batch of the elusive pimento dram. Here’s Chuck’s recipe, which I followed pretty much verbatim (though I did cut it in half to make a smaller amount):
Pimento Dram (a.k.a. Allspice Liqueur)
- 2 1/4 cups 151 proof Lemon Hart Demerara rum
- 1/2 cup whole dried allspice berries
- 3 cups water
- 1 1/2 pounds brown sugar
Using a mortar, coarsely crush the allspice berries and place in a jar. Cover with the rum and seal tightly. Let the mixture steep for at least 10 days, agitating it daily. [Warning: if you open the jar and sniff it at some point, you may have the urge to chuck the whole foul-smelling mess. Resist the urge--it gets better later on.]
Pour the mixture through a fine strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much rum-spicy goodness as you can. Pour the liquid again through a coffee filter.
Make a 1:1 simple syrup using your brown sugar and water, heating and stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let the syrup cool, then add it to your infused rum. Bottle it tightly in a clean, sterilized bottle, and let it rest for at least one month. [note: if you get curious while you're bottling it--and you will--the young mixture will still taste a bit odd, with the "heat" from the high-proof rum seeming to make the mix pretty rough and unbalanced. Patience.]
After waiting a whole freaking month for the stuff to be ready, you can finally break into it and taste. Wow. Zig Zag Cafe‘s archbishop of bartending, Murray Stenson, referred to pimento dram as “Christmas in a glass,” and he’s completely right–not only does the warm gentle flavor of allspice bring back just about every delightful childhood memory of the holidays, but the aged mixture tones down the rum’s rough edges, so you have a delightful spiciness with a smooth, brown-sugary base and the twinkle of hearty rum in the aftertaste.
The next step, of course, is to explore cocktails with the new creation. CocktailDB.com has ten or so, at least a couple of which I intend to try as soon as this head cold that’s been mucking up my sense of taste for the past couple of days clears up. But otherwise, I’m open for ideas.