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Hot Buttered Rum

Traditional, Colonial America. By Lars Theriot

2 oz Pusser’s Rum
2 Tbls Butter Batter (see below)
3 – 4 oz Boiling Water
1 Pat of Unsalted Butter

Place butter batter into bottom of a pre-heated mug
Add Rum, then water
Stir to dissolve batter
Float pat of butter on surface of the drink

* * *

I find it interesting that so many of my cocktail revelations have happened while visiting New Orleans… not surprising exactly, but interesting. On my latest trip to the Big Easy, a Hot Buttered Rum (my first ever) nearly saved my life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s take a step back to Colonial America circa 1650. Sugar Cane was just beginning to be processed in serious bulk and shipped north from the Caribbean to the Northern colonies and, eventually, back to England. If we know anything about those Proto-Americans, it’s that they saw a potential tipple in just about everything. Rum, produced from molasses (a sugar cane by-product), soon followed, and distilleries began to crop up all over New England, with the Rum-based “hot-toddy” soon appearing to ward off the chill of those brisk winter nights in America.

Which is where I found myself two weeks ago – a winter night in America. After a week of temperatures in the 80’s, a cold front swept through New Orleans, just as I was about to take my two young nephews to a Christmas village-themed amusement park in City Park. Wearing nothing but a light sweater, I was unprepared for the 35 degree temperatures and stiff winds we faced on the shores of the Mighty Mississippi. Within minutes, I knew I was going to need something hot to drink or else we would face a choice between two unacceptable outcomes. One, the boys would miss their night of amusement park rides, or Two, yours truly would freeze to death on a miniature Christmas train.

To help explain how I arrived at a solution, let’s flash back again to a particular spot in the North Atlantic on the evening of April 14th, 1912. In two hours, the RMS Titanic would go from being the proudest cruise ship the world had ever seen to one of the most famous tragedies in human history. On board the ship was Charles Joughlin, a chef tasked with loading food and supplies on to the lifeboats. As he grimly went about his duties, he began to realize that there would not be a seat for him on the dwindling supply of lifeboats. As the band played on, he suddenly knew that he was going to die – and so he decided to drink a little. Three hours later, Joughlin was pulled from the freezing water still alive – one of the only passengers to survive for all that time in the frigid North Atlantic. To this day, many marvel at his survival and wonder if the high levels of alcohol in his blood might have actually saved his life.

Whether true or not, it was this story that I remembered as I pondered my choices on that cold winter’s eve. Coffee would do me no good. I needed booze. Slipping into the snack bar, I gazed up at the menu, and saw it – Hot Buttered Rum. Within its name were two crucial words: “Hot” and “Rum.” I ordered one. Fantastic!

The second we got back home, I was on the internet researching recipes. There are, of course, a million variations, but they all involve the same basic ingredients… a “batter” of butter, sugar, and spices which is mixed with dark rum and hot water. The batter variation we use here comes, appropriately enough, from New Orleans’ own Emeril Lagasse (given the story, we kinda had to pick that one – but it’s top notch).

Hot Buttered Rum may seem somewhat daunting to make – the idea of a batter at the bottom of a cocktail seemed quite foreign to me, as I’m sure it will to you. Don’t be afraid, it’s strikingly easy and good. Moreover, it’s a great Christmas drink, if for no other reason than the bouquet. If your smell of it doesn’t start sugar plums dancing in your head, well… you and I grew up in very different Americas, my friend. My first sip made me wish that I could be suddenly whisked away to an even colder climate, out caroling with a double batch of the stuff in a thermos at my hip. As Mr. Joughlin could undoubtedly attest, it warms the body as well as the soul.

It’s hard to go wrong with the Hot Buttered Rum, so feel free to adjust the spices as you like best. I prefer mine heavier on the cinnamon and nutmeg and a little lighter on the cloves. For best results, make the batter the night before you plan to make the drink. The spices will co-mingle and give your toddy a more robust and spicy flavor. Also, Rum and water amounts vary by recipe but my personal choice is 3.5 oz of water. Once you find your perfect balance, you can sip away, secure in the knowledge that this is a drink that has fought off winter for more than 350 years – one frigid night of hard-won experience in New Orleans (or, perhaps, in the North Atlantic) included.

Butter Batter
1 Stick Unsalted Butter, softened
2 Cups Light Brown Sugar
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Freshly Grated Nutmeg
Pinch Ground Cloves
Pinch Salt

Cream all ingredients together. Refrigerate overnight. Makes 10-12 drinks.

Esoterica: If you’re feeling really old school, add all ingredients into the glass, including water, while they are cold. Douse a red hot poker into the glass to heat the drink.