Spicing Your Holiday Drinks with Allspice Dram and a Do-It-Yourself Orange Liqueur


In just another week we’ll see the start of the festive season that starts with Thanksgiving and ends with New Years. It is a fine time for entertaining family and friends with food and spirits.

Fitting out a home bar with all the special concoctions that make for interesting and complex cocktails, or supplying ourselves with ingredients for cooking with liqueurs, can cost us a pretty penny. Fortunately, a bottle of inexpensive vodka, light rum, or brandy, some sugar, and spices or fruits to flavor them, can provide the needful for quite a range of flavored liqueurs.

This is a trick that has been around a long time. One of the first flavored liquors I ever tried making came from a cookbook printed in 1833, The American Frugal Housewife, which recommended putting lemon peels, when the juice has been squeezed out, into a wide mouthed jar of brandy. I’ve done that for years, and use it as one would lemon extract in baking and in sorbets, anytime I need a little punch of lemon flavor.

So spotting something called Allspice Dram caught my attention. I thought of the lovely warm flavor of allspice, a spice which is oddly not as much in fashion with baking these days, but which I think works beautifully in cakes, cookies, and anything made with apples. The dram, which depends on light rum, is good in all kinds of beverages. Add it to club soda, put a drop or two in wine, or add it judiciously to other cocktails. One of my favorite winter drinks now is warm cider, a dash of rum, and a dribble of allspice dram. The dram is fabulous in hot buttered rum.

The dram requires about three weeks of time to produce. Start it today and you’ll have it for Christmas. Crush the allspice by using a mortar and pestle gently with a pressing action, or roll the dried berries between two sheets of paper towels with a rolling pin. They do not have to be crushed finely.

Orange liqueurs vary a great deal in intensity and flavor, and the distinctions among various brands depend on the makers’ formulas. However, a simple orange cordial can often stand in for the others in cooking and even in flavoring some drinks. The quality of the orange peel itself makes a difference; and if you can obtain bitter oranges or dried bitter orange peel, they will give you better flavor. Variations on this recipe can include using brandy instead of, or in addition to, vodka, adding three or four whole cloves, and more or less sugar or simple syrup. Make sure you use only the orange-colored zest of the orange, and none of the white. I used a vegetable peeler to do the job. When you get to the final stage of the liqueur, add the simple syrup gradually, tasting to make it as sweet as you prefer; I stopped after I added about a cup of simple syrup to two cups of the orange-flavored liquor. The orange liqueur will take about three to four weeks to produce.

Looking for….Your favorite way to use Thanksgiving leftovers. I could happily eat turkey sandwiches for a week, and maybe you could, too. Or maybe you have a different favorite post-Thanksgiving recipe or two. Please share your ideas and I will put together as many as I can next week in this very spot.

Orange Liqueur

Zest of four to six oranges

Vodka or brandy to cover (about 2 cups)

2-3 whole cloves

Simple syrup (1 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water)

Peel the zest off the oranges (eat the fruit inside)

Put into a quart jar with a lid and cover with vodka or brandy.

Let stand, shaking gently daily, for two weeks.

Add the cloves, and let stand another week or two.

Strain the liquor and add the simple syrup to it, to taste.

Let stand another day or two then decant into a bottle with a tight fitting cap or cork.

Allspice Dram
  • ¼ cup whole allspice
  • 1 cup light rum
  • 2” piece soft cinnamon stick
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ⅔ cup light brown sugar or raw or turbinando sugar
  1. Crush the berries and put into a quart jar with a lid.
  2. Add rum and let stand for four days, shaking the jar daily.
  3. On day five, break up the cinnamon stick and add to the jar.
  4. Steep for 12 days.
  5. Strain through a coffee filter into a quart jar.
  6. Mix the hot water and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved, let cool, then add to the jar with the rum.
  7. Let rest for 2 days before decanting into a bottle with a tight fitting cap or cork.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.