Hot Buttered Rum: A Holiday Tradition

The holiday season is fully upon us and like most Americans the 12 O’ Clock household has traditions that help fill us with the holiday spirit.  However, the spirit that fills us in this household is rum (although Red has introduced a new tradition of making her own Irish Cream, which is positively enchanting).  Rum may have a bit of a checkered history in the United States, but for this New England native, nothing says the holidays like hot buttered rum.

Hot buttered rum made its first appearance in New England in the mid 1600s.  As New England became the hub for rum distillation, some contend that this wonderful libation was the evolution of what I can only imagine was a horrid beverage, buttered ale.  However, I tend to disagree with this line of thought.  The traditional toddy, which is made with sherry, mulled wine, cider, or whiskey, is much closer in function and design to hot buttered rum than buttered ale.  Both hot buttered rum and toddies are served warm and incorporate a liberal use of spice in their composition.  Moreover, given the tremendous popularity of toddies in Europe during the American Colonial Era it stands to reason that as rum became more prevalent it would replace the other spirits in the New England toddy and that is how the hot buttered rum came into being.

There are different variations on the how to make hot buttered rum.  I have come across several traditional recipes that call for buttered batter to be included in the drink.  I don’t assemble mine in this fashion, but it can be delightful when it is implemented properly.  I use a recipe that was passed down to me from an old crotchety Puritanical New Englander who claims it comes from a family recipe that spans a couple of centuries.  I cannot confirm to the authenticity of his claim, but I can confirm that it is absolutely delicious.

Colonial New England Hot Buttered Rum

Photo Courtesy of Kitchen Treats

2 oz Dark rum
2-4 Tbsp brown sugar
1.5 teaspoons of butter
2 oz boiling hot water
1 pinch of nutmeg
2 pinches of ground clove
1 cinnamon stick

The secret, if there is one at all, is the high proportion of brown sugar and butter.  I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and rum is already sweet enough for my taste so I err on the side of less sugar, however many recipes call for the larger amount, which is why I have included it here.

However, with this stated, I need to take – once again – a quick aside.  I have never, ever had anyone say anything about the perfection that is my  hot buttered rum, until this year when Red and I were trimming the tree.  As I serve the first round of drinks, Red takes a sip; she then goes to the kitchen; retrieves some sea salt and applies it to the top of her drink.  She then proceeds to declare how much better the drink has become.  I was appalled.  This is a classic drink that certainly has stood the test of time.  Well, once again her superior pallet had won the day.  Once I had done some additional research to some of the classic hot buttered rum recipes, almost all of them called for just a touch of salt no doubt to cut through the sweetness of the rum and sugar and to penetrate the richness of the butter.  So, while the recipe above will stand on its own, this almost perfect libation will absolutely be enhanced with the inclusion of a half pinch of sea salt as a finishing touch on the beverage.  It appears that I should have lived by the old adage that a good (bar) chef always leaves out one ingredient from their recipe when it is shared.

One last point that I feel is important to note is the dark rum that is used.  I know that there are many people who use light or spiced rum in their designs.  To me this is a grave error.  Light rum does not have the complexity and depth of dark rum and doesn’t belong in this drink.  Light rum serves no function other than an alcolic bite to the drink and the subtilities of the young rum will be completely lost in this potion.  While I can understand the desire to use spiced rum, this is also an fatal error.  Spiced rum is also not aged nearly as long as dark rum and the spice that has been incorporated will be diluted when they are introduced to the other ingredients.  It is imperative that you only use dark rum for this libation.  Dark rum is aged longer than gold rum and is almost always aged in charred barrels.  This imparts a beautiful complexity, depth of character, and spiciness that makes it the absolutely clear choice to use for hot buttered rum (and for consumption in general).

So, for many of us, in a couple of days we will throw another log on the fire, grab some wrapped gifts from under the tree, and enjoy in some revelry.  I can think of no better drink to have at my side than my trusty New England stalwart and I am looking forward to many more years of extending a tradition with a cocktail that has spanned centuries.


~ by its12oclocksomewhere on December 22, 2010.

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