By Jody Kurash
April may seem a bit late in the year for a warming cocktail, but when the first day of spring is met with an arctic blast, who knows what wacky weather Mother Nature has in store for D.C.
Personally, as a rum lover, I drink hot buttered rum year-round. I find it especially comforting on a cool summer evening with a scoop of ice cream — kind of like an adult rum pie à la mode.
For those unfamiliar with this tipple, the concept may sound strange. Firstly, rum brings to mind tropical summery drinks and sunny days instead of hot toddies and snowy weather. Secondly, the idea of butter in a cocktail is unusual. Sometimes the correlation is made with “Butterbeer” of Harry Potter fame or, for intrepid travelers, the yak butter tea commonly drunk in Tibet.
To distill these odd notions, it’s important to note that while today most rum in the U.S. comes from the Caribbean, rum was one of the first mass-market products manufactured in America.
According to Wayne Curtis, author of “And a Bottle of Rum: The History of the New World in Ten Cocktails,” rum distilling was Colonial America’s second most important manufacturing industry. Icy cold Boston had at least 25 distilleries and another 10 distilleries or more were producing rum elsewhere in Massachusetts.
The liquor worked its way into traditional hot drinks like the toddy, made with a sweetener (such as sugar or honey), boiling water and spices. Somewhere along the line, it was enriched with a pat of butter and voilà! Hot buttered rum came into existence.
Today, variations of this drink abound, with a multitude of flavors. While recipes vary, one thing mixologists can agree on is that the best technique for making this cocktail is to prepare a “batter” ahead of time. The batter is a premade mixture of sweetener, butter and spices. Simply cream the ingredients together by hand or with a mixer. To make the drink, place a few tablespoons of batter in a glass or mug, add some rum, then top with boiling liquid.
The batter can be made in advance in bulk and frozen until needed. In an article penned for Liquor.com, Curtis advises imbibers to “store it in the freezer so you can be sipping hot buttered rum in as long as it takes a tea kettle to do its job.” Think of it as the gift that keeps on giving.
For the spice mixture, there are no solid rules, so customize it to your liking. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice work well, but if you’re adventurous, consider adding cardamom, ginger or chili pepper. To sweeten the mixture, try different types of sugar or honey, maple syrup or molasses. A little citrus zest can contribute floral notes and softened ice cream added to the batter provides a rich, creamy texture.
The standard recipe calls for adding boiling water, but alternatives include apple cider and chai tea. Any type of rum can be used according to your preference. It can also be augmented with such elixirs as cognac, brandy, port wine or cordials. For summer sips, I like to add fresh seasonal fruits like peaches or berries.
This classic can be found at some of Washington’s first-rate bars and restaurants. The famed Round Robin Bar in the Willard Intercontinental Hotel serves a hot buttered rum made with dark rum, hot water, unsalted butter and spices including cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, with a cinnamon stick and a lemon twist for garnish.
The cozy atmosphere at Georgetown’s 1789, complete with a fireplace and gaslit rooms, is a perfect spot for some liquid heat. The restaurant’s hot buttered rum is a combination of brown-butter-infused rum, warm spiced apple cider, cinnamon and whipped cream. Also in Georgetown, Bourbon Steak has a version forged from Myers’s dark rum, aged rum, vanilla bean and ginger, served hot with homemade dulce de leche cream.
If you prefer to avoid going out in the cold altogether, a recipe found in Curtis’s book follows.
Hot Buttered Rum
- 1.5 oz. rum
- 1 tbsp. frozen hot buttered rum batter *
- Add the rum and batter to a mug. Fill with boiling water and stir.
* Hot Buttered Rum Batter
- 1 lb. butter
- 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
Mix all ingredients except the ice cream in a bowl to combine. Add the ice cream and stir. Store the batter in the freezer.