Warm days are returning to Minnesota; time to think about tropical drinks. As luck would have it, Jeff Berry’s Grog Log came to hand the other day, and fell open to his fruit and spice laden Ancient Mariner.

According to Berry, the Ancient Mariner is an attempt to recreate the flavors of Trader Vic’s Navy Grog, which was itself an attempt to decipher Don the Beachcomber’s drink of the same name.

“We called it the Ancient Mariner,” writes Berry, “because by the time we finished with it, that’s how old we felt.”

In the end, the Ancient Mariner is dramatically different from either Vic’s or Don’s Navy Grog; Berry’s drink includes Allspice Dram, sometimes referred to as Pimento Dram.

Chefs and bakers among us will recognize allspice as the flavor we associate with harvest pies and winter cooking. It comes from the dried berry of Jamaica’s Pimento bush; some sources suggest we owe its popularity in Western cooking to Christopher Columbus and his second expedition to the Americas.

So what is Allspice Dram?

Allspice Dram is an infusion of allspice and sugar in rum, and may have other additions as the makers see fit. We owe its invention to Jamaican ingenuity and the rise of the rum trade in the West Indies. Its use seems to have been limited to the islands until WWII, when its popularity spread northward, part of the Tiki repertoire for Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber.

The Allspice Dram is a spicy, sweet and bitter concoction, with flavors of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper all coming from the allspice itself, and additional infused flavors of orange and other citrus peel and sugars, all blending into the underlying characteristics of the Jamaican rum base. It is assertive and complex, and a natural match for rum drinks.

The  Ancient Mariner Cocktail - rums, lime and grapefruit juices, and allspice dram.
The Ancient Mariner

The Ancient Mariner is basically a fancy rum sour. All the basics are there: a solid dose of rum, a blend of fresh citrus juices, and a dollop of sugar to balance it out.  It’s the spice that makes it something more than a Daiquiri, and brings that heady mix of cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and clove to the mix.

The Ancient Mariner
Jeff Berry, 1994

  • 1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum (Appleton 12, Myers Dark)
  • 1 oz Demerara Rum (El Dorado 12, Lemon Hart 80)
  • ¾ oz lime juice
  • ½ oz grapefruit juice
  • ½ oz simple syrup (1:1 Demerara syrup)
  • ⅛–¼ oz Allspice Dram (DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters, St. Elizabeth Allspice Liqueur)

Shake all ingredients with cracked ice until well chilled; pour unstrained (including ice) into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a scored lime wedge and mint sprig.

The El Dorado 12 and the Appleton 12 rums blend very naturally in this drink. Overproof rums, and the more aggressively flavorful rums like Smith & Cross, are not right for this drink; Smith & Cross is far too dominant a flavor, and doesn’t blend smoothly with the other ingredients.

The lime is a natural with rum drinks; the grapefruit is less common, and I’m finding that I really enjoy it as part of the juice blend.

Berry’s recipe calls for simple syrup, but the Demerara syrup fits in very nicely with these rums.

Berry also calls for ¼ ounce of the Allspice Dram, which is too much for my taste. About a barspoonful, ⅛ ounce, balances the drink perfectly for me.

And don’t leave out the mint, if you have some fresh. I can’t explain how it works, but the minty nose seems to integrate the flavors, holding the sweetness down and softening the spiciness of the first sip.