The lion’s tail: a curious mix of ingredients combine to make a well balanced cocktail.
The first time I had a lion’s tail was three years ago at the Knee High Stocking Company on Capitol Hill. Cool name right? It’s a prohibition-themed speakeasy bar with no signs, just a small plaque letting you know you’ve arrived at the correct door. Reservations should be made same day. When you ring the buzzer a woman opens the door with a curtain behind her, so you can’t see inside until she allows you in.
When I saw the lion’s tail on the menu I knew I had to order it. I didn’t know what allspice was but with bourbon, lime, simple syrup, and bitters, it was kind of a no brainer. Allspice dram, or pimento dram, is a liqueur of allspice berries and sugar soaked in rum. With notes of cinnamon, cardamom, and of course allspice, it tastes like Christmas. It’s very strong and can easily overpower a drink so cocktails often call for small amounts to play a subtle role.
Allspice berries have grown in Jamaica for centuries. When the British discovered them in the 17th or 18th century, they noticed the berries had flavors of multiple spices. Hence the reason they chose the name allspice. The liqueur became popular from 1930s through the 1970s, especially in tiki punches, before disappearing in the United States.
The lion’s tail was first written about in the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book in 1937. It’s unclear whether the author, William J. Tarling, created the drink but most likely not because of the scarcity of bourbon during the time. Just four years after the end of prohibition, bourbon was still hard to come by.
Ted Haigh, author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails tells how the name lion’s tail may have come about. “Here is a recipe very much in the classic cocktail tradition from the august Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, published in London in 1937. Since ‘twisting the lion’s tale’ was American slang for character distinctly British, we might assume the author of the Lion’s Tale was a prohibition refugee from the States.”
On paper, this drink doesn’t seem to work. Bourbon and lime juice? Lemon juice is typically paired with bourbon. And like I mentioned above, allspice is typically used in tiki style drinks and punches. But something about this combo of ingredients pairs really well.
- 2 ounces bourbon
- ½ ounce lime juice
- ½ ounce allspice liqueur (original calls for ¾, I find that too strong)
- 1 teaspoon simple syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass with no garnish. I’ve also seen this drink strained into an old-fashioned glass with lime wheel as the garnish.
The lion’s tail cocktail is pretty straight forward, just a note on allspice dram:
- There are only two brands of allspice that I’ve seen: St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram and The Bitter Truth Pimento Dram. The liqueur wasn’t imported into the United States from the 1980s until 2008 so plenty of do it yourself recipes exist online. The St. Elizabeth comes in a 375 ml bottle, which I'd recommend to save a little money since such a small amount is used in each cocktail.
If you love bourbon, you’ll dig this cocktail. And if you’ve never had allspice dram before, this drink is a must. Try it and start thinking of how to pair it with other cocktails.