Winter is the best time for warm, boozy drinks. Hot Buttered Rum is one of those fairly simple delights that always fulfills our desires for cozy, sweater-weather vibes.
This recipe comes from the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club in Portland, Maine. It’s a fairly straightforward version with a spicy kick of black cardamom. More robust than green cardamom, and common in Scandinavian cooking, black cardamom has a complex, slightly smoky flavor. Look for it at your grocery store or specialty spice shop, or order it online.
The History of Hot Buttered Rum
While seeking the origins of Hot Spiced (or Buttered) Rum in his book “Imbibe!,” David Wondrich found that the addition of butter in hot drinks could be traced back to the reign of England’s Henry VIII. When it comes to adding liquor to the mix, however, Wondrich writes, “History is silent as to where and when the spirits came into the picture, but eighteenth-century New England would have to rank high on any list of suspects.”
During America’s Colonial period, New England had become a major player in the rum industry, with hundreds of distilleries churning out the molasses-based spirit. “At the peak of its popularity, colonials supposedly consumed more than five gallons of rum per person each year, paying mere shillings per gallon,” writes Katherine Hysmith in t.e.l.l. New England magazine.
With such an excess of the spirit, it’s no wonder colonists found a dizzying number of uses for rum. “Rum was often combined with all manner of tonics including spring water, citrus juices, freshly grated spices, small and dark beers, warmed through with cream, hot butter, or whipped into a frenzy with eggs. And recipes varied from tavern to tavern and house to house,” Hysmith adds.
While the cocktail may have lost traction as the country turned its focus to whiskey, the recipe popped up again in Jerry Thomas’s 1887 manual “The Bartenders Guide,” and more recently in “Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink” first published in the 1940s.
Wondrich posited that butter was included because it helped to lubricate mustaches, which is likely not a priority for those enjoying the drink today.
7 Questions About Hot Buttered Rum, Answered
What is Hot Buttered Rum?
Hot Buttered Rum is a cocktail traditionally made with rum, hot water, sugar, butter, and optional spices. Variations on the drink include replacing the butter with ice cream or milk, and sometimes coconut oil. There are even those who prefer to replace the water with cider.
Is there really butter in it?
Yes, the recipe really does call for butter — but techniques vary.
While the original recipe suggests dropping a simple pat of butter right into the rum, sugar, and hot water mixture, more modern interpretations opt for less oily methods. Most bartenders suggest creating a batter by whipping the butter with the spices and sugar until smooth. Others swear making the batter with ice cream is the trick.
What's with the ice cream?
Many recipes include vanilla ice cream because it adds sugar and creaminess to the drink and mixes better than butter alone. Whole milk or heavy cream can yield a similar result. This clever rendition by drinks writer Wayne Curtis suggests making a big batch of ice cream batter and freezing it in a tub for Hot Buttered Rum all winter long.
Why do people drink Hot Buttered Rum during the holidays?
It’s warm, boozy, and offers the optional comforting warmth of baking spices, like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg, all of which are often used in winter-friendly recipes. It also doesn’t hurt that National Hot Buttered Rum Day is celebrated on January 17, giving Hot Buttered Rum fans the excuse to continue enjoying the boozy drink well into the new year.
What's the best rum to use for Hot Buttered Rum?
A Jamaican or blackstrap rum pairs best with the richness of the cocktail, though whatever you have on hand will work just fine.
How many calories does Hot Buttered Rum contain?
It’s certainly not the most diet-friendly of beverages, with one eight-ounce serving clocking in around 300 calories. At this point, who’s really counting?
Can you make it vegan?
Absolutely. Some recipes, like Grace Bernotavicius's "Not Buttered Rum," replace the butter with coconut oil and/or vegan butter, offering similar non-dairy decadence.