The complex, spicy Lion’s Tail cocktail is a perfect one to make while limes are fresh and spice flavors are on my mind. With a simple list of ingredients, just bourbon, lime, allspice dram and simple syrup, it’s an easy shake.
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What is a Lion’s Tail Cocktail?
I’ll admit I hadn’t made one at home before this week, and they can easily become a staple. They’re this lovely combination of the clove, baking spices and bitterness from the allspice with the tart taste of lime and a bold stroke of bourbon connecting the two. It’s a cocktail that probably developed during Prohibition, but wasn’t recorded until 1937 when it appeared in “The Café Royal Cocktail Book.”
The name of it might have been a reference to the American phrase “grabbing a lion by the tail.” But it’s a strange reference because Café Royal was in London. But we’ll never know now. It certainly would feel like you’d grabbed a lion by the tale after two of these.
Flavor’s in the Lion’s Tail Cocktail
The flavors in a Lion’s Tail Cocktail are more reminiscent of a rum drink with the bold splash of allspice dram (also called pimento dram) and the tart fresh lime. In addition, a splash of bitters and a bit of simple syrup round out the drink. Lime with bourbon is not a typical combination. We see rum paired with lime all the time, but here, the allspice dram acts as a bridge between the bourbon and the lime. The clove, deep spice flavors of the allspice kick the bourbon’s palate closer to rum, and the bitterness of the allspice melds in well with the bitterness of the lime. Using fresh squeezed you get a little bit of the bitterness from the rind.
Why this Cocktail Intrigues Me
I’m far more likely to add lemon than lime to a bourbon or whiskey cocktail. Something about the tart bitterness of lime juice doesn’t always play well with bourbon. That’s interesting to me because it is so often used in rum drinks – specifically drinks with aged rum. As an aged spirit, rum might be sweeter than bourbon, but it’s got many of the same aromatics on the nose and the flavor.
The fact that we can use pimento dram/allspice bridges both the bitterness in the limes and the sweet notes from the bourbon intrigues me because I didn’t think it was going to work. Perhaps by increasing the bittery spice notes with the acidic bitterness of the lime balances them out to a point where the bourbon doesn’t have to work so hard to shine through. Regardless, it’s a fabulous combination. And one I’ll be riffing on soon.
How to Make a Lion’s Tale Like You Mean It
As a riff on a classic sour, this cocktail is as easy as you can get. Add lime juice, bitters, simple syrup, allspice dram and the star of the show, bourbon, to a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and shake for about 10-12 seconds. Next up, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lime peel or lime wheels as I did here.
For more information about how to make a great whiskey sour, or how you could put a silky twist on it, head to How to Make a Boston Sour. Note that if you do add egg white or aquafaba, the spice and lime will both smooth out, making it more palatable to sensitive palates. But, if you’re like me and enjoy a little friendly flavor competition in a drink, leave it at the classic recipe.
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- 2 oz bourbon
- ½ oz fresh lime juice
- ½ oz allspice dram
- ½ oz simple syrup
- 2 dashes aromatic bitters or angostura bitters
- Garnish: lime peel or wheel
- Combine ingredients in a shaking tin. Add ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a fresh lime peel or lime wheel.