In Defense of Hot Buttered Rum

Contributed by

Why does a big sip of Hot Buttered Rum hit the spot in winter?

Um…It’s hot, it’s got butter, it’s got rum: It’s comfort food in a mug. End of story.

Yet for some reason, this assessment isn’t universal. Dyspeptic cocktailian David Embury wrote in his 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks that it was “the worst” hot concoction.

“The lump of butter is the final insult,” he said. “It blends with the hot rum just about as satisfactorily as warm olive oil blends with champagne! I believe that the drinking of Hot Buttered Rum should be permitted only in the Northwest Passage and, even there, only by highly imaginative and overenthusiastic novelists.”

Embury was sticking a shiv in Kenneth Roberts, the author of the 1937 bestselling historical novel Northwest Passage. Roberts had all but singlehandedly returned to favor this obscure colonial tipple by incorporating it into his tale. “After a man’s had two—three drinks of hot buttered rum, he don’t shoot a catamount,” Roberts wrote. “All he’s got to do is walk up to him and kiss him just once, then put him in his bag, all limp.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, a small mania was born. Even tiki maven Trader Vic included it in his 1946 Book of Food and Drink, with a nod to Roberts.

To Embury’s credit, he does single out the chief flaw in lesser versions of the drink: the greasy blob of melted butter floating on the surface. Recipes often call for simply adding a dollop before serving.

My advice: Don’t. Instead, use a batter—this formula was passed around my wife’s family for at least three generations. By whipping up a butter batter with ice cream, somehow you avoid the odious slick. And you need to make a tub only once each winter. Store it in the freezer and you can be sipping Hot Buttered Rum in as long as it takes a teakettle to do its job.

Hot Buttered Rum

Contributed by Wayne Curtis

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1.5 oz Rum
  • 1 tbsp Hot Buttered Rum Batter,* frozen
  • Boiling water
  • Glass: Mug

PREPARATION:
Add the rum and batter to a mug. Fill with boiling water and stir.

*Hot Buttered Rum Batter
INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lb Butter, at room temperature
  • 1 lb Brown sugar
  • 1 lb Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Ground cloves
  • 1 tsp Ground nutmeg
  • 1 qt Vanilla ice cream, softened slightly

PREPARATION:
Add all the ingredients except the ice cream to a bowl and stir to combine. Add the ice cream and stir again. Transfer to a container with a lid, seal and store in the freezer. (Ideally, the batter is prepared at first frost and finished before the robins arrive. Bring it out for parties, or whenever the temperature drops below 25 degrees.)

Wayne Curtis writes about drinks for The Atlantic and is the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. He is also host of the site Slowcocktails.com.

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