The first time I had a lion’s tail was last year at The Passenger on 7th and G Streets near Chinatown in DC. (Update: The Passenger has since closed [bummer], but rumor has it that a new location will soon be announced!) This was a really cool spot in DC, off the beaten path a bit, and a popular spot for unpretentious 20-somethings looking to escape the drab of the Capitol Hill scene, or the hipster bars on U Street. As a side: This place has one of the best bar burgers I've ever had! Seriously. Their chicken sandwich is also write-home-worthy!
When we finally managed to cop a spot at the corner of the bar, the bartender, surprisingly, also happened to be one of the owners. Awesome! So, instead of going straight to my usual rye old-fashioned, I noticed the bar had a quirky, offbeat cocktail menu. They also invite patrons to "name your spirit of choice and we'll surprise you." I'm feeling spry, so bartender...
"What's good with bourbon?"
With a discerned look, the bartender volleys, "How high?"
I profess, "Woodford!?," in the form of a question.
"Knob Creek!?," he replies.
I nod as if to say, "That'll do."
Once he returns, here comes a curious cocktail, served high in a martini glass. A quick whiff gives you the fragrance of the obvious notes of allspice, and cinnamon, coriander, clove and a hint of cumin. Color me intrigued.
Note: This concoction includes a rare mixer; Allspice dram. Allspice dram, or pimento dram, is a liqueur of allspice berries and rum-soaked sugar. Brilliant! But be wary, it's strong. Very strong.
Allspice berries can be found in the Caribbean islands. When the British discovered them in the 17th or 18th century, they noticed the berries had flavors of multiple spices. Hence, "allspice." The liqueur became popular from 1930s through the 1970s, especially in tiki punches, before becoming almost extinct in North America until being reintroduced in recent years.
"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.”
This is a very curious cocktail, indeed. When I think bourbon and lime juice, I can't help but think of my college days shooting back SoCo lime. I'm feeling queazy just thinking about it. However, I'm a huge fan of orange, and sometimes lemon citrus, paired with my bourbon cocktails. But lime? And allspice? Skepticism aside, this is one fantastic drink! Here's what you'll need:
Martini glass. (You can use a rocks glass if you don't have one, or otherwise don't want to do fancy sipping from stemmed glassware). Cocktail shaker. Strainer. Ice.
- 2 ounces bourbon (I used Eagle Rare)
- ½ ounce lime juice (fresh squeezed is better)
- ½ ounce allspice dram (St. Elizabeth)
- 2 ounces simple syrup
- 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
- Star Anise (for garnish)
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice. Shake. Strain into a martini glass. Top with anise (it should float atop the froth of the drink.)
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.
Grab your favorite bourbon (you don't mind mixing) and try your hand at this kickass cocktail. Cheers!