March, as the idiom goes, comes in like a Lion, and goes out like a Lamb. This month may bring us spring-like temperatures, but also one more blizzard for the road. Winter’s last blast requires a libation celebrating the flavors of the season and is worthy of the ferocity of the month’s namesake, Mars, the Roman God of War.
Meet the Lion’s Tail, the last winter cocktail you will order.
Some background: Eryn Reece, bartender at Mayahuel in New York introduced me to this delicious drink a few years ago when she worked at the Rye House. It was an off menu standard and nightcap. The cocktail actually dates back to the 1930s, first appearing in the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book (1937). The Lion’s Tail returned from the cocktail graveyard thanks to Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh's book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.
At its core, the Lion’s Tail is a variation of a whiskey sour with a wintry flavor profile and tropical influences. The components are bourbon, allspice or “pimento” dram, lime juice (instead of lemon), simple syrup, and good ole’ Angostura bitters. As Don Draper says, “Keep it simple yet significant.”
Allspice is the flavor that stands out in the Lion’s Tail. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram is produced by Haus Alpenz of Austria and registers at 22.5% alcohol (45 proof). It is crafted in the tradition of pimento dram from the Caribbean. Pimento dram is a pimento berry infused rum based liqueur that hails from Jamaica. According to Cocktail Database, the English named the pimento berry flavor “allspice” because it tasted like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Original pimento dram was popular in pre-prohibition tropical cocktails.
The use of bourbon in this recipe is important from a historical context. For one, 1937 is barely four years after Repeal so the supply of aged bourbon was not exactly plentiful. Only six distilleries had been licensed by the federal government to keep producing whiskey for medicinal purposes during the Dark Age, so bourbon cocktails were rare until the industry recovered in the 1950s. Hence, there is a preponderance of Canadian rye showing up in cocktails lasting well after prohibition. Secondly, bourbon is not typically paired with lime juice in shaken cocktails. However, allspice’s rum base is a natural with lime. Both of these facts make the cocktails’ existence to be quite unique.
I recommend using a bourbon that can stand up to the allspice dram and not get lost in the citrus. Eagle Rare 10 year Single Barrel (45% alcohol/90 Proof) displays robust oaky flavors with hints of chocolate, toffee, and almond works very well in this formula. Eagle Rare delivers the punch and balances the sour and spicy essence. Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon (45% alcohol/90 Proof) is also stellar in this recipe. Both Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace are produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Building the drink: Start with bitters, freshly squeezed lime juice, and simple syrup. Then add the liqueurs and ice, shake for 25-20 seconds, and double strain into a chilled coupe. The allspice taste is prominent, as a cocktail modifier should be used sparingly. So I dialed back the original spec of ¾ oz to ¼ oz allspice dram. The original recipe has no garnish though I have seen it served daiquiri style with a lime wedge. I find three Luxardo maraschino cherries to be an excellent addition in presentation and palate cleanser.
2 oz Eagle Rare 10 Year Single Barrel Bourbon
¼ oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
¾ oz Lime juice
½ oz Simple syrup
Dash of Angostura bitters
Tools: mixing tins, jigger, bar spoon, coupe, Hawthorne strainer, fine strainer
Combine bitters, dram, lime juice, and simple syrup in mixing tins. Add ice, and then shake until well chilled. Double strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with three Luxardo maraschino cherries.
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. He is head cocktailian and a co-producer of The Salon parties. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.
***Payman Bahmani will return in April for his weekly Happy Hour column and is honored to have Fredo tend the bar while away.