Instant homemade allspice dram (ok – almost instant)

homemade bottle allspice dram

The trick to this recipe is using a blender and high-proof alcohol to quickly extract the flavorful essential oils and aromatics from common kitchen spices.

I scoured the egullet forums to come up with this recipe – many different variations exist. The spices used are very easily filtered out using an aeropress and the overall price of the project comes out to something like $6. Definitely a good alternative to buying the commercial stuff.

Instant Allspice (Pimento) Dram

Yields about 650mL – almost a whole bottle.

allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper

Ingredients

  • 50g allspice (about 1/2 cup)
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 a nutmeg
  • 225 mL overproof (151) rum
  • 300 g sugar
  • 300 g water

spices and rum in a blender

Directions

Combine all ingredients except sugar and water in a blender. Blend on low for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, use the sugar and water to make 1:1 simple syrup. Remove the blended spices and rum from the blender and strain using the aeropress method or triple-layered cheesecloth. Combine with the simple syrup and you are DONE.

How does homemade compare to the “good stuff”?

Even though the whole point of starting this allspice endeavor was to avoid paying $30 for a bottle of allspice dram, I bought a bottle for comparison’s sake.

St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram was the talk of many a cocktail blog when it first reappeared in the U.S. a few years ago. Allspice dram is featured in many great tiki drinks and adds a a great bitterness and depth to any other drink.

homemade vs store-bought comparison

Pouring my homemade dram (left) side-by-side with the St. Elizabeth’s product (right), it was immediately clear that the homemade version ended up cloudier. However, my cloudy concoction had just as much body as the St Elizabeth’s and only a slightly lighter flavor. The cloves were heavier in the homemade as well.

The big difference, however, is that the St. Elizabeth’s dram has a distinct and slightly unpleasantly astringent aftertaste. It leaves your mouth feeling dry – the way it feels after eating an un-ripe banana.

But then again, no one sips allspice dram. In a Lion’s Tale, I enjoyed the bitter after taste. But in most tiki drinks, I preferred the homemade version.

Conclusion and some geeky stuff

So was my simple and fast homemade allspice dram better than the commercial bottle? Debatable. Suffice it to say, though, that at about five times the price of home-made, I doubt I’ll ever buy allspice dram again.

Here are some things to ponder:

  • The cloudiness seen in the homemade allspice dram is most likely caused by essential oils that failed to fully dissolve in the liquor. Commercial distillers most likely use steam distillation to extract oils and then add only as much as can be fully dissolved.
  • I created my recipe ingredient amounts to fill a 750 mL bottle and was confused when I ended up with only about 650mL of product. The answer lies in the density changes that occur when you mix sugar, alcohol, and water. Sugar combined with water is less dense than unmixed volumes added. The same is true of alcohol and water. When you mix all three… strange things happen.

What’s your favorite use for allspice dram?

12 Comments

  1. Sam August 4, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    I’d be curious to know how your rapid-infusion process compares to the slow maceration approach I’ve seen outlined elsewhere (e.g. on egullet and other blogs). A friend recently used the latter method and gave me a sample. It was just about as piquant as St. Elizabeth, slightly less bitter on the end of the palate, and somewhat less sweet.

    • Kevin August 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

      Sam,

      I’m definitely interested in this question, but my plan is to do more research into the science behind what’s going on before doing further experiments.

      As I alluded to in the post, I suspect St. Elizabeth’s and others use either steam distillation or a fining agent to clarify their liqueur, so even if I macerated the ingredients rather than blending, it wouldn’t necessarily taste the same as the retail stuff.

      The more important question is what compounds are actually being extracted from the spices – is it all about essential oils, or do oleoresins and tannins play a part? How do these chemicals change over time?

      I definitely hope to follow up, but for the meantime, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this dram, so I thought I’d share :-)

  2. Tony Harion August 20, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    Hey Kevin!

    Great blog, mate.

    Maybe the cloudiness could be avoided if you let the liquor infusion sit for a while and rack it.

    I don’t think your cloudiness came from a louche effect when you add the syrup, but may be something to think about.

    When we make it, we usually do large batches and keep the infusion at high proof until just before we use it. Since it sits for a while it’s pretty clear as particles go to the bottom.

    Of course, it wouldn’t be instant anymore :)

    Keep up the great work.

  3. Rafa March 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    Curious: which rum did you use?

    • Kevin March 14, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

      memory escapes me, but I think I used bacardi 151 because that all I had at the time.

  4. JohnP July 12, 2013 at 1:00 am #

    Kevin,

    I’m curious if you did any followup on this? I just read your book (really great by the way), and came upon this recipe. I’m curious because in my experience Pimento Dram kind of tastes like crap when first made and needs at least a month of aging to “mellow”. I’m all for time efficient recipes, but Pimento Dram was one thing I found I couldn’t rush and get good results with. My own recipe uses a somewhat similar spice blend to yours that sits in Lemon Hart 151 for a week before being blended with a Muscovado simple syrup and aged. Both the Lemon Hart and Muscovado make a big difference in my opinion. St. Elizabeth is fine, but the real Berry Hill from Jamaica is a different, richer more flavorful animal.

    Thanks again for all the research and info!

    • Rafa July 12, 2013 at 1:08 am #

      I used Kevin’s method with Wray & Nephew White Overproof as the base rum (which I imagine is pretty similar to what the Berry Hill folks are using) and in my experience the dram was potable and delicious very shortly after straining. I did keep it in the fridge for a few days after infusing which probably affected how the flavor developed.

    • Kevin July 12, 2013 at 5:22 am #

      @JohnP

      The reason I first tried this pimento recipe is because although I found a lot of places online saying you should let the dram “rest” for however many days, no one could provide a clue as to why this might be true.

      In my research, I couldn’t find any good reasons why the flavor profile would change over time. I also let mine sit for 1 day and did a comparative taste test and couldn’t tell a difference. Admittedly, a month might make a difference. I also haven’t tried Berry Hill, so maybe that would be a real eye-opener as well.

      Thanks for the comment!
      Kevin

  5. JohnP July 15, 2013 at 12:17 am #

    Kevin,

    I agree that the reason for the taste changes bothers/confuses the scientist in me. But it definitely seems to be the case it improves with time (at least with the recipe I’m using). Maybe something akin to changes in resting wine or tequila in steel? The higher alcohols and other organic compounds going through some subtle changes? I feel like there is an explanation out there somewhere from a distiller or cordial maker. It would be interesting to at least have a clue about the mechanism.

    This all reminds me though of the “debate” going on about if it’s possible to accelerate the aging of bourbon and other spirits with smaller barrels and other technology like Cleveland Whiskey employs. I’m mostly on the “you can’t rush it” side because I do think other changes are happening in the spirit besides just picking up flavor from the barrel. But I’m not exactly sure what those changes are. Interesting topic.

    –John

    • EllenJ December 4, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

      I believe the “problem” with rapid-aging via smaller barrels, oak chips, or other methods of extracting more “barrelness”, isn’t picking up flavors from the barrel, but rather getting rid of undesirable flavors that come along with it. Time seems to alter or eliminate those (or turn them into something we like better). Maybe oxygen is a factor. It seems that folks like those at Cleveland might have the right idea, although I’m afraid their implementation of it leaves a whiskey that many find tastes even worse than simply “too much new wood”.

      What really amazes me, though, is the discussion (not your post, but among others) of why Kevin’s product isn’t as clear as the commercial ones. Have we forgotten that commercial liqueuers and spirits are ALWAYS filtered? I don’t just mean “chill-filtered”, although anything going into a cocktail with ice ought to be, but I also don’t mean “strained by gravity through a coffee filter”, either. Commercial filters shove the spirit through a couple foot stack of thick filter sections under high pressure. THAT’s why St. Elizabeth’s is sparkly clear. You’re just not gonna get that at home, although I know of some home-brewers who’ve modified water purifiers to do a pretty good job. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter, since you’re not gonna be sipping allspice dram neat anyway.

  6. Gary October 7, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Any reason why one might not grind the spices to a powder dry in a spice grinder first, then add the rum, then the simple syrup? Seems to me the spices might grind finer dry than as a suspension and thereby give up more flavor?

  7. Kevin October 7, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

    Hi Gary,

    I advocate the grinding (blending) step in order to accelerate the extraction of oils into the liquor. The process would work with a finer grind. However, the main consideration for a finer grind would be whether you could filter all the sediment out.

    Best,
    Kevin

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