Holiday Drinks: Hot buttered rum

Americans have been drinking hot buttered rum since before

Hot buttered rum has a long history in the U.S. / AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

Not everyone has a taste for rum—the tropical liquor made from molasses and other sugarcane byproducts. And yet, there is something supremely appealing about rum when it comes attached to the words “hot” and “buttered.” It immediately conjures snowy nights and blazing fires, plates of sugar-dusted cookies and the sound of sleigh bells in the distance.

Rum is produced primarily in the Caribbean and Latin America and stars in tropical drinks such as the daiquiri and piña colada. So how did it get to be the key ingredient in a classic winter cocktail?

holiday drinks logo Hot buttered rum, also known as a hot toddy, has a long history in the U.S. In fact, it predates the republic. The drink has its origins in Europe, where hot, spiced alcohol-spiked beverages have for centuries been used to fortify souls against bitterly cold winters. When the British Royal Navy captured Jamaica in 1655, rum replaced brandy as the sailors’ daily ration.

Colonists began importing it and soon moved on to setting up distilleries in the Northeast so they could make their own from cheap imported molasses. The liquor worked its way into traditional drinks such as the toddy, made with sugar or honey, boiling water and spices, and, in the case of hot buttered rum, enriched with a pat of butter.

As inviting as it sounds, hot buttered rum has had its detractors over the years, according to Wayne Curtis, author of “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails.”

In an article on,  Curtis quotes David Embury, author of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, a classic cocktail book published in 1948:

“The lump of butter is the final insult,” Embury wrote. “It blends with the hot rum just about as satisfactorily as warm olive oil blends with champagne!”

Curtis, however, maintains that when done right, hot buttered rum is nothing short of “comfort food in a mug.” The key, he says, is to make a batter—a thick mixture of softened butter, brown and white sugar, spices and, somewhat surprisingly, softened vanilla ice cream. The batter is added to a mug or a glass, along with the rum. Boiling water is then stirred in. The ice cream, Curtis says, prevents the “odious slick” of grease from forming on the surface of the drink.

Curtis’ recipe for hot buttered rum (actually his wife’s recipe) calls for mixing a generous quantity of batter to be stored in the freezer throughout the winter, or as he put it, “prepared at first frost and finished before the robins arrive.”


AFR Tested

This recipe is adapted from Wayne Curtis, author of “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails” (Broadway Books, 2007).
It’s a lot of batter, so we adapted the recipe to yield somewhat less. Also, we were out of vanilla ice cream but we did have some gingersnap ice cream on hand so that’s what we used--with spectacular results.


  • Batter
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) brown sugar
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup vanilla (or gingersnap) ice cream, slightly softened

  • Hot Buttered Rum
  • 1.5 ounces rum
  • 1 tablespoon frozen hot buttered rum batter
  • Boiling water
  • Cinnamon stick, star anise for garnish


To make the batter, in a bowl, combine the butter, sugars and spices and mix thoroughly. Stir in the ice cream and mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer the batter to a container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the freezer.

To make the hot buttered rum, pour the rum into a mug and add the batter. Fill with boiling water and stir. Garnish with the cinnamon stick or star anise.

, , ,

4 Responses to Holiday Drinks: Hot buttered rum

  1. Helen Free December 10, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Yo, ho, ho and yum. Should we use a dark or golden rum? Does it matter?

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti December 10, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      Good question, Helen. Most recipes seem to call for dark rum, which is what I used. But I’ve seen recipes that use golden rum. I liked it more than I expected to.

  2. Patty December 22, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    By any chance do you know how many drinks your recipe will make? I want to serve it to a chilly crowd of about 20.


  1. Food Friday: Hot Buttered Rum - Maia Chance - December 5, 2014

    […] hot buttered rum IS nostalgic, in an Americana sort of way and with a long history.  Naturally, then, there was a time when the Prohibition Lady Knights might have wanted to break […]