Pardon Me, Bartender, But There’s Some Butter in My Rum.
Just as the warm months conjure images of Mai Tais and Mojitos, a chill in the air seems to put our bodies into hibernation mode. Sometimes the only way out of that comfortable winter haze is a warming mug of something rich, boozy, and piping hot. History’s answer: the time-honored Hot Buttered Rum.
Now, for the novice, a slab of butter in one’s alcohol might seem a bit bizarre. But buttered drinks go back a very long way indeed. A recipe for Buttered Beere – yes it did exist before we read about it in Harry Potter – can be found in Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswife’s Handmaide for the Kitchin’ , which instructs us to combine ale, spices, egg, sugar, and a whole lot of real butter. Call it Hot Buttered Ale-Nog.
Flash forward to the 18th century. In Convivial Dickens, which chronicles Victorian drinking customs through the lens of Dickens’ books and stories, we learn how Hard Times’ Mr. Bounderby suggests to Mrs. Sparsit that she enjoy some “scalding rum-and-butter” to pick up her spirits. And, if we are talking about using fatty substances in drinks, the Victorians – and their 17th century forebearers — were also keen on Milk Punch, which David Wondrich suggests was an early example of fat-washing.
So, suffice it to say that butter (call it a fatty infusion, if you will) in one’s rum is nothing new and, if it has been around this long, one can expect it to be quite tasty. At least, that is, when properly prepared. Any drink that is insipid in consistency, flavor, or balance, will fail miserably and make a permanent bad name for that self-same drink in the drinker’s mind.
When executed properly, Hot Buttered Rum is a drink of stunning salubrious effects. It warms the body and, in a manner of speaking, the soul. Recipes abound for the drink. In New England, which was once very much tied to the rum trade, the version is a simple combination of spirit, sugar, water, and butter, giving a nod to the drink’s Toddy-ish lineage. Other recipes, and they are many, invoke the magic of a spiced batter, which conveniently can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the freezer.
Below are several Hot Buttered Rum variations. Try one. Try all. But whatever you do, don’t skimp on the quality of the rum – or the butter. Like so many things in life, the Hot Buttered Rum is more than the sum of its parts, and highly dependent on the quality thereof. Oh, and by the way, should you feel adventurous, make yours the old-fashioned way. Pour all the ingredients – cold — into a mug… and warm them with a red hot poker.
Adapted From: Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tenders Guide (1887)
Makes: 1 drink
- 1 tsp. Powdered Sugar
- 2 oz. Jamaican Rum
- 1 Piece of Butter, the size of half a chestnut
- 3-4 oz. Boiling Water, plus extra to dissolve sugar
- Nutmeg, for garnish
Preparation: Dissolve the sugar in a little boiling water. Add the rum and butter. Fill the glass (pre-warmed) two-thirds full of boiling water, stir to combine. Grate a little nutmeg on top.
Hot Buttered Rum (batter version)
Traditional Colonial Recipe
Makes: 1 drink
- 2 oz. Amber Rum
- 2 tbl. Butter Batter (see below)
- 3 – 4 oz. Boiling Water
- 1 Pat of Unsalted Butter
Preparation: Place butter batter into bottom of a pre-heated mug. Add rum, then water. Stir to dissolve batter. Float pat of butter on surface of the drink.
Makes: Batter for 10-12 drinks
- 1 Stick Unsalted Butter, softened
- 2 cups Light Brown Sugar
- 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. Freshly Grated Nutmeg
- Pinch Ground Cloves
- Pinch Salt
Preparation: Cream all ingredients together. Refrigerate overnight. Can be stored in freezer.
Hot Buttered Rum
From: Eric Alperin, The Varnish
Makes: 1 drink
- 2 oz. Brugal Añejo Rum
- 1/2 oz. Butter
- 3/4 oz. Honey Syrup (three parts water, one part honey)
- Hot water
- Fresh nutmeg, for garnish
Preperation: In an Irish coffee mug, add the rum, butter and honey. Fill halfway with hot water and stir ingredients until the butter melts, then top off with second half of hot water. Garnish with grated nutmeg.