May 21st, 2008

I say pimento, you say allspice

St. Elizabeth Allspice DramAnother lost cocktail ingredient is being found around Boston: pimento dram. I was served two different cocktails containing the stuff in the span of 24 hours recently.

First up was the Passenger Pigeon. Cocktail enthusiast Fred Yarm invented this drink for, get this, his International Migratory Bird Day party. As if winning the Drinking to Obscure Occasions prize weren’t enough, Fred and his consort, Andrea, put together an astonishing list of 20 cocktails named after birds — all classics except for two that Fred created and one by Robert “Drinkboy” Hess. Since I had only tasted pimento dram, a liqueur of Jamaican origin, at the Lost Ingredients session at Tales of the Cocktail last summer, I went straight for the drink that featured it. “Ah, that’s one of mine,” said Fred.

Passenger Pigeon
2 oz Calvados
1/2 oz pimento dram
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Fred says, “The concept of the drink started as a rye drink with the pimento dram, but rye did not work well with the flavors as it was; perhaps some sweet vermouth could have rectified that. Instead I substituted the rich-flavoredness of Calvados to balance things out.” Not a bad drink at all. The Calvados dominated the first few sips, but the allspice flavor of the pimento dram intensified as the drink warmed a bit.

That’s right: allspice. Pimento is the Caribbean term for this clove- and cinnamon-like berry. But since North Americans think “olives” or “loaf” or even “cheese” when they hear the word pimento, the company that reintroduced pimento dram to the spirits market, Haus Alpenz, is calling it St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram. I think “pimento dram” is more poetic, but, alas, Haus Alpenz owner Eric Seed wants this product to appeal to a demographic beyond those who collect out-of-print bartender’s manuals and read Imbibe magazine. (See Misty Kalkofen‘s post about Seed on the Tales of the Cocktail blog.)

The next night, Michael O’Donovan of Highland Kitchen used the St. Elizabeth in a vintage recipe from CocktailDB:

None But the Brave
1 1/2 oz brandy
1/2 oz pimento dram
1/4 oz lemon
1/4 oz rum
1/4 tsp sugar
Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

“I think I’ve been making it with a touch more lemon, rum, simple [syrup], and have added bitters. It can, however, get overly sweet and allspiced very quickly,” said Michael. The drink he made me was good, and I’m certainly willing to participate in further experimentation.

If anyone knows the origin of this drink, please chime in, because I and others have come up dry. None But the Brave is the title of a 1965 movie, directed by and starring Frank Sinatra, about Japanese and American soldiers stuck on a Pacific island during WWII. But why would anyone dedicate a cocktail — especially one with these ingredients — to such a film? Anyway, it seems unlikely that a drink with such an unmodern combination of spirits would have been created as late in the 20th century as that.

The phrase goes way back, actually. “None but the brave deserves the fair” is a line in the 1697 John Dryden poem “Alexander’s Feast.” The poem depicts Alexander the Great celebrating at a victory banquet after conquering the Persian Empire in 331 B.C. The “brave” refers to the Greek king, of course; the “fair” refers to Thais, a famous courtesan who is Alexander’s date at the soirée. So, at least we’ve narrowed down the birth date of the None But the Brave cocktail to somewhere between 1697 and 1965.

Further reading: blogger Paul Clarke wrote recently about pimento dram in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Chuck Taggart, who writes the Gumbo Pages, came up with a good recipe for pimento dram a couple of years ago. He then created his own pimento dram cocktail, the Reveillon.

Boston mixologists, including Michael (above) from Highland Kitchen and Stephen Shellenbergers of Dante, among others, are making their own pimento dram.

And as more Boston bars stock this liqueur, you might want to order a …

Lion’s Tail
2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz pimento dram
1/2 oz lime
4 dashes simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake well over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

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10 Responses to “I say pimento, you say allspice”

  1. Adam

    Awesome! Really glad to hear that this is starting to become available locally, and great timing on this post for me… I just made up a batch a couple of weeks ago using a recipe I found here:

    I’m now waiting the requisite month specified in the recipe before tasting, and I can’t help but notice that even after running through two coffee filters my end result is a bit on the cloudy side, with quite a bit of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. I’m all for the fun of making my own stuff, but I would rather buy a high-quality pre-made product instead when one is available, and save the headaches for the next morning 🙂

  2. Stephen

    i gave a bottle of my own batch to a bar regular who told me he puts it on his yogurt…

    haus alpenz came up with a great source for their allspice berries… the berries are known for their cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, pine, and black pepper character… not all berries are in as good balance as the st. elizabeth’s… they apparently can reflect as much terroir as a wine grape… some become too hot tasting or too piney and lose their elegance…

    the alpenz is good stuff. but if you want another lost ingredient to track down once you have your allspice dram… tropico in roxbury has a couple dozen seville sour oranges left (i bought a dozen today)…

    coer d’obscurite (heart of darkness)
    2 oz. whiskey or amber rum
    1 oz. allspice dram
    1 oz. sour seville orange juice


  3. Pinky G.

    It’s a great list Fred & Andrea put together – I was sorry to have missed the party, and look forward to trying a Passenger Pigeon.

    And while we’re in the business of resurrecting such fine old ingredients, I propose a toast in remembrance of Martha.

    (‘Martha’, thought to be the world’s last passenger pigeon, died on September 1, 1914 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

  4. ljclark

    Awww, Martha. I’ll toast to that bird.

  5. eric

    just so y’all know, and it’s an intimate audience here, TTB said that “pimento” was referential to the pepper and misleading, so “allspice” was as honest and descriptive as it is, even as us cocktailians still use ‘pimento’ as a descriptor. I tried, really!! Nonetheless, our govt colleagues had a good point that ‘allspice’ is more clearly referential and descriptive in a contemporary manner, and (our tax dollars serve us well here) it is what is is. Let the pallet prevail.

  6. ljclark

    Eric — thanks a million for setting me straight! Best of luck with this and your other fine products. See you at Tales.

  7. Br. Cleve

    Pimento Dram has been my Holy Grail for a good 15 years, so I was very excited when I heard that Haus Alpenz was bringing it back. And it did not disappoint! Every time someone I knew went to Jamaica, I’d plead with them to bring me back a bottle. But Beachbum Berry tells me the St Elizabeth is better than the Wray & Nephew brand (which I understand is better than the Berry Hill). The Lion’s Tale has been a big fave here at the home bar, followed by the Ancient Mariner, which I’d been waiting to make since 1994! Michael shook me up a None But The Brave the other night at Highland, which was very fab indeed. Thanks for printing the recipe, I’ll make one today at 5. Pimento, Allspice…..I don’t care what they call it, I just call it “nice”. Excellent straight up and on the rocks, too. Thank you Eric and Haus Alpenz!

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  9. pete

    The Chemex coffee filters (take a long time) but filter pretty good.

  10. Frederic

    I just found a version of None But the Brave that pre-dates the movie in Crosby Gaige’s 1945 Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion.

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