Hot buttered rum is the alpha and omega of my wintertime. For me, the season doesn't officially begin until I have a hot buttered rum in my hand and it doesn't end until I've scooped the last spoonful out of the strategic rum batter reserves in my fridge.
Bing Crosby can keep dreaming of a "White Christmas" and ol' Nat King Cole can roast those chestnuts to a crisp, but I'll always pine for that moment in December when I can finally order the most iconic seasonal Tiki drink - a hot buttered rum.
My first taste of this delicious concoction came on a rainy December evening at the Tiki-Ti a few months after I became a legal drinker in 2002. The door to the tiny bar was shut when I arrived, presumably to keep the chill from blowing straight into paradise. Upon entering, I discovered that the closed door had a secondary effect: it trapped the scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves wafting from whipped cream-topped mugs and concentrated them into an intoxicating fragrance so thick and sweet you could cut it into slices and serve it like cake. My first sip of the buttery brew had me all rosy cheeked and wide-eyed. What is this heavenly stuff and how do I get my hands on more of it?
I quickly learned that that guys at Tiki-Ti only serve hot buttered rum once a year, right before Christmas, in keeping with a tradition started by the late, great Ray Buhen. Their hot buttered rum batter recipe, like all of their drink recipes, is a family secret. So I set out in search of replacement recipes that would get me back to hot buttered rum nirvana. Sadly, I had to walk in hot buttered limbo for years before getting there.
My quest to recreate that hot buttered rum experience at home led me to Jeff "Beachbum" Berry and Annene Kaye's Grog Log and, later, Intoxica. Each book showcased a recipe for hot buttered rum that appeared authentic, pedigreed, and hand-selected by the Beachbum himself. I figured it was as good a place as any to find heaven in a glass.
The first recipe came out of the Grog Log (1998):
Volcano House Hot Buttered Rum (c. 1950)
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce sugar
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 1/2 ounce Myers's dark rum
3 to 4 whole cloves
Pat of butter
Twist of lemon peel
Pour juice, maraschino liqueur, sugar and rum into a mug. Fill rest of mug with very hot tea. Stir well, then float butter. Add twist of lemon peel and cloves.
This wasn't a terrible drink. In fact, with a flavorful black tea it wasn't half bad. But it wasn't even close to that delightful draught of sweet and spicy goodness I had at Tiki-Ti. It was time to try another recipe.
From Intoxica (2002):
Pub and Prow Hot Buttered Rum (1952)
1 ounce creme de cacao
1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
Pat of butter
Put butter, rum and creme de cacao into 6 ounce mug. Fill with 4 ounces of hot water. Muddle and serve steaming hot.
This recipe made a perfectly fine hot toddy that is sure to get you feeling warm and fuzzy, but, ultimately, it lacked the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and sweetness I expected and so desperately craved.
Where was I going to turn to next? This was back in the early 2000's and sites like Punch and Imbibe didn't exist yet. I didn't know of any other recipe books that would feature something as seemingly exotic as hot buttered rum, so I resigned myself to the fact that I would just have to wait until December every year to enjoy that little slice of heaven at Tiki-Ti. (It's always worth the wait.)
It wasn't until years later that I came across Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink, Rum Cookery and Drinkery, and Bartender's Guide. Contained in each of them is a wonderful recipe for hot buttered rum batter that is sweet, savory, and as criminally addictive as a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks.
From Trader Vic's Rum Cookery and Drinkery (1974):
Hot Buttered Rum Batter
1 pound brown sugar
1/4 pound soft butter
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of salt
Beat sugar and butter together until thoroughly creamed and fluffy. Beat in nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Makes about 2 1/2 cups of batter.
The trick to this recipe is that you must beat the ingredients as you would a cake batter (with no heat). To do so successfully you'll need to leave your butter out for several hours until it is thoroughly softened. If you do this correctly, you'll produce an excellent hot buttered rum batter. Just scoop a "heaping teaspoon" into a 6 - 8 oz mug of boiling water, add 1 1/2 ounces of light Puerto Rican rum per Trader Vic's recipe (I prefer dark Jamaican rum and so does Tiki-Ti), add a few extra whole cloves if desired (like the Trader), and stir until the batter is thoroughly dissolved. Garnish with a cinnamon stick. Whipped cream is optional.
Trader Vic's recipe for hot buttered rum batter had been my go-to for quite some time. It got me as close to my original hot buttered rum nirvana as I had ever been without stepping into Tiki-Ti's friendly confines. Maybe it's just the feeling of being there, but nothing quite beats having a hot buttered rum at the 'Ti' during that one week of the year when they serve them.
If, however, you are nowhere near Tiki-Ti during the holidays and, unlike me, didn't form an obsessive and permanent attachment to their version of the drink, I suggest trying this excellent new recipe out of Martin and Rebecca Cate's marvelous Tiki tome Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki.
The Cates' recipe is a culinary delight. It would make Trader Vic very proud for its insistence on doing things "properly," like freshly grinding your spices, which adds a complexity and depth of flavor unmatched in any other hot buttered rum recipe I've ever encountered.
From the Smuggler's Cove (2016):
SC Hot Buttered Rum Batter
1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground anise seed
2 cups salted butter
4 cups packed golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons Brer Rabbit Mild Molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the spices in a small bowl and set aside. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, add sugar and stir constantly. Add molasses and vanilla extract and stir. Finally, stir in the spice mixture. Continue to stir on lowest possible heat until all items mix thoroughly and butter does not create a separate layer, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly and while still soft, pour batter into storage containers. Seal airtight after batter has cooled completely. It will keep until the expiration date of the butter used.
Now that you've done the hard work, make yourself a Smuggler's Cove Hot Buttered Rum by combining 3 barspoons of the above batter and 1 1/2 ounces of blended aged rum in an Irish Coffee glass, top with 6 ounces of hot water and stir. Serve with a cinnamon stick, but feel free to garnish with whipped cream and some freshly grated nutmeg if you so desire. I'm sure Martin, Rebecca, and the Trader wouldn't mind.
Stay warm and Carpe Drinkum!