Choosy’s Hot Buttered Rum

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Couples joke about each other’s foibles, right?  Everyone does it:  we kid about how our partners commit comical acts like shove their icy, frozen-dead feet jealously up against our still-living flesh; we tell stories about how loud our counterparts snore, as if no-one else has ever had to endure sounds emanating from their significant others’ sinuses that could rattle the windows; we joke about those times we wake up to hysterical laughter coming from the other side of the bed, bubbling up out of their partner as they dream, so sudden and shrill that one might make the case that despite the hilarity of the dream it is — in fact — legitimately terrifying.

We do this because as grumpy as we get about it at four in the morning, when we’ve had a little time to adjust to the situation, it’s actually pretty funny stuff.  Tina likes to mumble things in her sleep, but never in a way that anyone outside of her brain can actually understand.  It’s as though there is a throttle between her subconscious and her jaw that allows her enough energy to speak, but just barely not enough to be understood:

(Scene:  4 o’clock in the morning.  Mike sleeps peacefully, happily)

Tina:  (urgently) URMA NURRMMM AHHH UNNHHHH!

Mike:  Holy God, are you okay?

Tina:  Noooohhhh ahh, eeelll aammm uhhhh… muh!  MUH MUH MUH!

Mike:  I– you– you’re dreaming.

Tina:  NO!

Mike:  Oh God, you’re awake?  Are you okay?

Tina:  …

Mike:  Babe?  Are you all right?

Tina:  (snores heavily)

Mike:  … I am wide awake now.

(fin)

I can look back on this now and laugh because, as you can plainly see, someone who is trying to communicate through the inherent insanity of their dreams is actually pure comedy gold.  And — let’s be honest here — I would be considerably more freaked out if Tina could speak clearly from within her dreams (“Mike, give me back that egg beater, you have no right to the Freedom It Brings You!”), so permit me a moment to count my blessings.

My point is that I’ve been with Tina long enough now to have developed the ability to distinguish normal sleeping noises from those that are more troubling.  I’m a light sleeper by nature, having fallen squarely in the middle of two parental extremes (upon slumber, my father descends into a state one step removed from death; however, my mother can detect the flight of bats even while unconscious, and can recite conversations overheard while sleeping), so I pop out of my sleep at the slightest provocation.  Most of the time, I can identify why I woke up and drop back off again; this week, though, I have more than once laid awake and listening, nervously.

When Tina gets sick, she snores.  She snores to bring the roof down.  She snores so loud that the Viking Thunder Gods send polite emails asking if everything’s okay, because it sounds like there’s a bit of a ruckus going on.  She snores, gurgles and saws logs to beat the band, her head all stuffed-up and her throat sore and raw.  It worries me, and the only thing that agitates me more is when she stops.

This weekend, Tina stopped snoring, and she moved into wheezing.  So after a long couple of days of badgering and frowning and stern looks, she relented to go and see a doctor.  We came home this afternoon with a white paper baggie full of drugs, a few movies that I resolutely refused to watch with her due to their likelihood to cause my gonads to retreat, and an intensely private personal directive forming in my heart.

Yes, those of you who know me so well:  Booze therapy.

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The first time I ever had Buttered Rum, I was at a Christmas party hosted by a good friend of mine.  He was very much the sort willing to experiment with liquor, most frequently when he was working with only the basic of concepts combined with the greatest possible enthusiasm.  

“We should try Buttered Rum!”  he said.  “Let’s make Buttered Rum.”  

To me, the words sounded dangerous and threatening.  It held the promise of that most dangerous of combinations — dairy and alcohol — a pairing that had never been terribly compatible with my constitution.  Did I truly want to risk Christmas Eve on a gamble like that?  Naturally I would, but the wisdom of the move gave even me pause.

I remember that there was a pot, and there was boiling water in it, and I have a vague recollection of the greater part of a stick of butter vanishing into the solution, followed by a tremendous amount of rum.  Unsurprisingly, I have few memories beyond that, aside from a sense of Yuletide warmth and an overwhelming sense that the holidays should not taste so much like movie popcorn.  Ever since, I have wondered whether the problem lay with the drink, or with me.

How convenient then, that I should have such an opportunity before me:  the woman I adore laid low by foul sickness, and the opportunity for me to resolve a life-long mystery, all in a single concoction!

Choosy’s Hot Buttered Rum

  • 1 teaspoon of unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 2 oz of rum
  • Hot water (boiled)

Hot Buttered Rum is a recipe you’ll see going back quite a while, along the same timeframe as hot gin punches and other Dickensian favorites.  Most people don’t like their liquor warmed any more, unless it’s served Irish-style under a cap of whipped cream and disguised as a dessert, but there was a time when that was the only civilized way to go about it.  With the rise of easily-available ice machines and the acceleration of the working culture (go figure, not everyone can wait around for their after-work drink to reach a boil), the majority of hot punch recipes have fallen far, far off of the cultural radar.  Those favorites that have survived are generally seasonal traditions, and you can still find recipes for Rum Toddys or Buttered Rums popping up in the media around the holidays.

But there’s no reason that these drinks can’t be appreciated at all times of year, even as we peer optimistically forward at the springtime.  A hot, spicy, boozy beverage feels beneficial to soul as well as body — imagine the bliss you feel when you’re sipping a hot cup of tea in the morning, except followed with a pop that makes you think one more game of Peggle might be all right before starting the day’s chores.  It’s a treat for anyone with an open day on their calendar, and particularly so if an illness is what came along and cleared your agenda.

If you’re stuck in bed, why not enjoy it?

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It all starts with a reasonably-sized cup and a splodge of butter.  You should aim for roughly teaspoon-sized, and make sure that it’s unsalted butter — not because that’s what you hear every time anyone tells you to use butter on a cooking show, cookbook or website, but because you really will taste the salt here.  There isn’t enough liquid to dilute the amount of salt you’d find in a teaspoon of butter, and the flavor is strong enough without the sodium along to help.

Whack out as much as you feel is right, and if you’re feeling particularly decadent you can add a little more.  You will have a chance to fix it if you’ve added too much, but better you feel good about your portions now than have to hysterically scoop out melting butter later, right?  

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Directly on top of the butter, add your spices.

This isn’t science here, and you’re entirely welcome to play with whatever flavor you choose.  I opted for cinnamon and nutmeg, because they’re both warm flavors that complement each other nicely and play well with the richness of butter — but hey, you could go just as easily with allspice or cloves if you wanted to.   You are dealing with just a serving though, so don’t go overboard on quantity; less is definitely more here, so whatever happens I wouldn’t go with more than 3/4 of a teaspoon of spices in a cup.  I personally opted for 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, and the same of nutmeg.

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Sweet, delicious rum.

Again, you can express yourself here.  Quantity and color of rum will all make a difference in this drink, depending on what you want to accomplish.  White rum will give it a clean, alcoholic punch with only a little residual sweetness; gold rum will have heat enough to complement the spices, and carry its own distinctive flavor through; dark rum will provide undertones of molasses make a more complicated drink, but also carries a whallop if you drop in too much.

In this case, I opted for 7 year-old golden rum from Cuba (sorry Americans; thanks Tina’s parents who brought it back for us!), and dropped 2 ounces in right over the spice-butter heap.

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Now comes the balance.  So far we’ve got rum for the alcoholic heat, the spices for their complex bitterness, and the butter for its fatty wonderful goodness.  All that’s needed is some sugar to even out the flavor, and give the whole drink a solid leg to stand on.

Traditional recipes will call simply for sugar, and strenuous chefs might even go so far as to specify which kind — a quick search of the internet will give you a recipe that includes every variety of sugar you can put your hands on.  This is a matter of taste, of course, but personally I would suggest that maple syrup is a marvelous compromise:  it’s already a liquid, it can be added easily into the drink without any need for strenuous mixing or dissolution, and its sweetness blends marvelously with rum.  

Plus it adds a Canadian twist, and I’m always happy to spread that influence.

Go on, blob about a teaspoon or more in there, right on top of the butter-spice-rum mixture.  A thick slurry will begin to form.

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Stir.  Stir!  STIR!

Your life doesn’t depend on it, but man it makes life easier in a little bit, let me tell you!

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Add your hot water into the now-blended mixture.

You will immediately see that you have to go through stirring it all over again, as the fat will immediately rise to the top of the hot water.  That’s okay!  If you gave it enough of a beating beforehand, at least you will have pushed together the sugar, spices and fat to the point where only a single vigorous stir is required to bring it all together.  Otherwise, you’ll end up with several layers:

  • Butter on top
  • Booze in the middle
  • Silty spices on the bottom
  • Disappointment THROUGHOUT

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, there’s no reason that you have to use hot water as your solvent for all this flavor.  Numerous recipes will suggest using apple juice, apple cider or even a sweeter white wine as the hot liquid component.  But before you consider that, I’d urge you to take a look at the recipe as a whole, and decide what’s going to give — adding more sugar and acid in the form of apples means giving ground on either your sugar (white, brown, maple or otherwise) or your rum.  Just dropping apple on top can risk making the whole drink a wee bit cloying, however good it might taste on the first sip.

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So, remember when I said that you’d have a chance to fix the amount of butter you’ve added?  Here it is!  Savor it, because you’ve got about ten seconds.

Seriously, depending on how hot the water is that you’ve added to the cup — and for the purposes of the drink, it had better start at freaking plenty and end at scalding — you haven’t got a lot of time to meditate on the fat balance of your ingredients.  If you had any misgivings about the butter you dropped into the cup at the start, this is your one and only chance to scoop it out before you go for the final blend; otherwise, drop that fork in there and start whisking!

You should approach this with the same vigor that you would take with any emulsification.  If you are the type to make salad dressings more than cocktails, then think of this as blending a wee little vinaigrette in a teacup.  Whisk the butter until it’s gone, and looks fully blended into the rest of the liquids in the cup.  You will be rewarded with a rich, sweet and creamy-looking beverage that carries a spicy aroma and a little boozy edge.

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There aren’t too many upsides to being sick, but among the few is the delightful privilege of self-medication.  A happy, hot buttered rum is a wonderful way to give your body warmth, open up your sinuses with some spice, and tranquilize your body with sweet liquor.  The flavors balance marvelously on a simple teaspoon of butter, which carries along with it the calories that you might otherwise shun as you lie on the couch, secretly praying for the end to come.

Pour a buttered rum for yourself on the path to self-perpetuation, or for your loved one as an act of heroism — either way, you’ll have spread warmth today.

  • erica

    Fuck yeah. Why didn’t you tell me about this last week when I was sick, man? You had me at butter. And rum.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      I plead ignorance! But there’s still about a month left of winter, so don’t worry: You’ll probably get sick again, and this will be there waiting for you.

  • Alison

    Poor Tina! I didn’t realize you were so sick! Thank you for answering my questions about the dim sum, and I will try to give you a call sometime soon (I figured it was better not to call when you worked at 4 am!) Thanks! Alison

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Aw, thanks lady! This week is much better for the early starts, with the exception of Monday :S No worries on the dim sum, I hope I was able to help! And don’t buy a steamer, I’ll bring you one when Mike and I come for a visit.

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    I had a sip of this early in my youth and spit it out. I think I expected (and expect) it to taste like butterscotch. Maybe butterscotch schnapps. And then when it doesn’t, I get all disappointed. I’ll try it again soon and see if my adult (alcoholic) palate is more amenable to such things. Because it just SOUNDS so damned delicious.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      I’m the same way with coffee. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I like my caffeine as much as the next gal, but somehow it just never tastes as good as I expect from the smell…..sigh…

  • Nanco

    I’m SO glad you didn’t put lemon juice in this. Dan and I ordered a “hot toddy” when Dan had a cold, and the bartender made one up using her own childhood memories. It had hot water, honey, butter (possibly margarine!?) rum and lemon juice. I much prefer the ones my mom makes with much less hot water, more rum, real butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Next time I’ll definitely use maple syrup.

    • Peach

      Lemon juice is fine as long as it’s a tea toddy (usually with whiskey, I like them with brandy), which is NOT supposed to have butter. Buttered rum is a whole different thing. I like both, but that mishmash sounds awful.

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  • http://missfoodiepants.blogspot.com/ Cherie

    I have some bourbon with this recipe’s name on it!

  • Chris @ Damn yak dry goods co.

    Disappointment THROUGHOUT had me laughing out loud. Love it. Thanks for the recipe!!!