When you hear the phrase “twisting the lion’s tail”, a cocktail is not the first thing that comes to mind. Most likely visions of violence on the African plains as a result of an ill-advised activity spring to mind. But, in the 1930s, “twisting the lion’s tail” was American slang for anything distinctly British. Based on this the Lion’s Tail, which initially appeared in the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book in London in 1937, is thought to be a libation created by an ex-pat from Prohibition. Don’t you just love how convoluted etymology can be?
Not only is the name odd, but one of it’s primary ingredients, the pimento dram, generates images of the red pepper found in cheese spreads in the American South or the sad slivers stuffed into olives. This is not the case. The pimento in this liquor refers to the dried berry first discovered by English sailors on Jamaica in the mid-eighteenth century. The natives called the peppercorn-like berry “pimiento” in Spanish while the English decided to call it “allspice”. For those of you that have tired allspice, you know it incorporates the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and clove. The natives utilized “pimiento” to create a liquor by soaking the berries in rum and adding various sweeteners. Its popularity spread and by the 1930s it could be found not only in the Caribbean and America, but all the way to Europe. Over time, however, the island producers distribution shrank and now only a few remain with none available in the United States.
Fortunately, in the past decade a new “pimento” dram has been made available, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram. Connoisseurs of obscure liquors that have tasted the original recipes and St. Elizabeth’s declare it to be on par with it’s predecessors. That is indeed fortunate because it is the star of the Lion’s Tail. It dominates the fragrance with pronounced cinnamon and nutmeg scents and citrus rind rounding out the experience. The allspice dram is again at the forefront when tasting the cocktail and it finishes with a lovely hint of lime. This is a cocktail that we love sipping this time of year as summer fades into fall as it tells what is to come in the holiday season, but still hints at the past joys of summer.
The Lion’s Tail
2 oz – bourbon (we used Bulleit)
3/4 oz – allspice dram (we used St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram)
1/2 oz – lime juice
1/2 oz – simple syrup
2 dashes – Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a martini glass.