You know those fragrant sachets filled with cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and nutmeg pods that you pop into a simmering saucepan of red wine? They work equally (or arguably better) in a steaming mug of rum.
Think about it: Molasses-based spirits typically tout the same flavor profile as that bag of spices, says Brian Nixon, the owner and bartender at McClellan’s Retreat in Washington, D.C. So using them as the base for drinks that ward off the chill totally makes sense.
“Rum already tends to have some of those baking spice and vanilla notes,” says Nixon. “We like using rum in fall in place of bourbon or rye to show off its versatility and tastiness.”
People have been mixing, and drinking, warm spiced-rum drinks since the 18th century. Colonial-era inventor and chemist Nathaniel Chumberton created an elixir for sick children he called Mulled Rum Milk, whose original recipe contained rum and spices along with milk and turpentine. (Suffice it to say that version didn’t catch on.)
In his 1874 book, “A History of New Sweden, or the Settlements on the River Delaware” (Forgotten Books, $16.97), the Reverend Israel Acrelius cites a list of 48 “Drinks Used in North America,” No. 28 being a “mulled rum, warmed with egg yolks and allspice.” (That description may be closer to a Colonial-style Flip, which mixes beaten eggs, rum and sugar with warmed brown ale.)
Winter spices (image: K. Stork)
Keep those eggs in the carton, but do reach for the rum—ideally one that’s aged at least several years—and maybe uncork that bottle of red after all. “Mulled rum can be a great alternative to mulled wine, or it can serve to enhance red wine,” says Danny Sawyer, a bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago.
Aaron Joseph, a bartender for r.bar in Baltimore and Papa’s Pilar Rum “Rum Runner,” also mixes wine and rum. “Rum adds a wonderful array of flavors to what I call a bouquet of fall,” he says.
Whether it’s a wine-kissed warmer or a cider-forward sipper, these three mulled rum drinks will get you from cold to comfy in a jiffy.
This drink by Nixon has a big dose of fall in the form of a house-made liqueur of vodka and toasted pie spices that’s the liquid equivalent of pumpkin pie. He starts with Scarlet Ibis Trinidad rum, a spirit originally commissioned for New York cocktail bar Death & Co, and mixes it with warm apple cider and the liqueur.
“The Scarlet Ibis has great flavors that complement the rest of the drink's ingredients,” he says.
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In this heady rum sip, Joseph starts with Papa’s Pilar Blonde rum (aged three years). “The depth of nuttiness from the sherry cask and the baking spices from the bourbon cask gives this rum an unmatched complexity,” he says.
It’s mixed with pinot noir, sliced oranges, demerara sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, sliced ginger and dried hibiscus flowers. He recommends reserving the strained out flowers and ginger slices and using them to garnish the drink. Select a lighter-style pinot noir so it won’t compete with the delicate, lightly aged rum.
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Sawyer describes this drink as warm, rich and spicy—a glögg riff that mixes Plantation Barbados five-year-old rum (a blend of rums aged five years in bourbon casks) with red wine, Ramazzotti amaro, lemon and both honey and demerara syrups.
“Plantation Barbados five-year-old rum is a blend of rums aged for five years in bourbon casks, adding caramel and light baking spices, making this a true winter warmer,” he says. “The combination of amaro and clove add spice while the demerara adds body to the cocktail.”
Get the recipe.
Mixing your cocktail