Hot Buttered Rum

Having this blog sometimes backfires – people often think I know more about the boozes than I do. However, sometimes those backfirings have the happy side effect of a) making me realise that I do know more about drinks than I thought and b) reminding me of things that I need to play around with again. This happened the other day when Anna pimped me out to one of her twitter followers as someone who might know some good hot toddy recipes. Not wanting to disappoint I pointed her at my post on the LCS visit to Callooh Callay, where there was an excellent hot gin punch, but also remembered that I’d once dabbled in making hot buttered rum and suggested that as well. I then realised that my quickly tweeted recipe (make a paste of rum, sugar and butter, add hot water, stir) might not necessarily be the best way to do things and decided to do a little research.

Other than hearing it mentioned in adaptations of Dickens and other period pieces on the TV, I first encountered real life hot buttered rum at a Christmas party about 10 years ago. Every year I’d turn up on a Friday night and help my friend Neil prepare the increasingly impressive feast that became his yearly Christmas dinner. Served on the Saturday we’d start on the previous night, constructing a pile of desserts, several turkeys, stacks of veg and a yearly escalating number of sausages wrapped in bacon. We were joined by a number of other assistants that night, including booze buddy Adam who was in charge of drinks making to keep us lubricated as we prepared. He had decided that buttered rum was the way to go and without the safety net of a recipe combined butter, sugar and rum in cups which he and I promptly drank. Unfortunately the proportions were not quite as they might have been and I ended up sleeping on the floor of the kitchen (I think, the memories are predictably hazy) and cooking the next day was not as pleasant as it otherwise might have been.

Hot drinks containing booze have never really fallen out of fashion, popping up every year around Christmas without fail. The smell of mulled wine is ingrained into public consciousness as part of the season and the image of people standing in the snow with steaming cups of something to warm the cockles appears in the standard imagery. It makes sense to combine the warming effect of alcohol with actual warm drinks when the weather turns and the traditions of ‘hot toddies’ go back years, although their use as a cure-all for winter illnesses isn’t all that recommended these days. In medieval times, when the drinking of brewed drinks was preferred due to the potential of water contamination, hot spiced beers, ciders and wines (the foundations of mulling) were regularly served, with heating by the plunging a red hot poker into the drink living on until the times that fireplaces fell out of fashion in drinking houses.

As ever with older drinks there isn’t any particular set recipe and a quick search on the web led to me 5 or 6 different variations, but the core ingredients are the same – butter, brown sugar, rum and spices. Some involve cooking a mix of all the ingredients with water for hours to create a caramelised base to add rum to, some applaud the red hot poker method of heating and one intriguing looking one uses ice cream, but mine is rather simple and easy to make.

Hot Buttered Rum

Per cup:

  • 50ml dark rum (25 ml will work fine if you don’t want quite the hit of booze)
  • 2 tsp butter (I used unsalted, but lightly salted should be fine)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (I used some quite sticky demerara – the darker the better)
  • pinch of allspice (and whatever other ‘Christmassy’ spices you like)
  • grated nutmeg and a cinnamon stick to garnish

Mix together the butter, sugar and allspice (as well as any other spices you want – cloves, extra cinnamon or whatever) into a paste – you can keep this in the fridge until someone wants a drink. Put the mix into a mug with the rum (I used some rather tasty Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, found at the back of the cupboard where it was left by my lovely landlord) and top up with boiling water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and garnish with a grate of nutmeg. Instead of sprinkling some cinnamon either on top or into the mix I served it with a cinnamon stick as a stirrer, which seems to work nicely, imparting a hint of cinnamon and giving you something to mix the drink around with.

It’s really quite tasty – the spices and rich rummy sweetness rolling off the top with the steam of the hot water are, to me, the distilled scent of Christmas. To taste it is rich, with the fruitiness working with the butter to make something that’s akin to liquid Christmas cake and when you hit the bottom of the cup you can suck on the cocktail soaked cinnamon stick for a spicy reminder of what you’ve just finished. As the drink sits it will settle out into a buttery head (which isn’t particularly oily, having more the consistency of coffee foam) and rich sugary rummy liquid, and I rather like drinking it like this. However having a swizzly stick allows some mixing to make a more emulsified tipple with a consistency a bit like tea with creamy milk.

I suspect I’ll do some more experimentation with this over the season. Getting the texture of the drink right by making sure that the butter and liquids emulsify nicely is my first goal and getting some more caramel flavours in by cooking the butter and sugar mix before use sounds like a good plan. But mostly the red hot poker approach is something that I will have a go at as soon as I’m somewhere where the closest I have to an open fire is better than an out of fuel cigarette lighter…

Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
Dark Bermudan rum. 40%. ~£20 from Master of Malt

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