Hot buttered rum/photo: David Hammond

As pleasing as a pre-dinner cocktail can be, a chilled glass of anything seems out of keeping with the unusually cold weather we’re having. As winter settles over us, I scan cocktail menus, always hoping to find – though I almost never do – hot buttered rum. This old-timey beverage seems so right for this cold snap: it’s warm, it’s got extra calories (which we’re burning like crazy to stay warm) and the rum suggests piratical merry-making (yo-ho-ho and a bottle of…) to lighten the heaviness of this frigid season.

Hot buttered rum is basically a hot toddy (a base alcohol like rum or brandy, spices and water) with butter.

Adding spices to warm spirits has been going on for a long time. When rum became readily available in the Early American colonies, it seemed a good fit for a spicy drink, the sweetness complementing the spice (plus, if the rum was not of the highest quality, adding distinctive seasonings might covers over the off-flavors).

Even before the American Revolution, hot rum drinks became popular among sailors as well as landlubbers who needed something to keep them warm and happy during cold nights. Indeed, winter time, to me, is the only time that hot buttered rum sounds good: having a drink like this anytime between May and November seems like it’d be a very uncomfortable experience. Now is the time to enjoy this classic beverage.

Many recipes for hot buttered rum call for cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. But when you come in from the cold, you probably aren’t exactly in the mood to mess around grinding spices. You want to get something warm inside you as quickly as possible.

Last weekend, after shoveling snow, instead of mixing my own spices, I just used Bayou Spiced Rum, which is made in Louisiana from cane sugar and molasses. This rum has a spice profile that suggests cinnamon, nutmeg, maybe even cardamom, along with pleasing vanilla notes. The actual recipe is apparently a secret, but suffice to say that you can just pour this rum out of the bottle without the need to add other spices.

To make hot buttered rum, I used a blend of one part rum to three parts water. I first cut a pat of butter into the water in a Pyrex container, put the container into the microwave to heat (I didn’t boil the water); then I poured the hot buttery water into a cup of rum. I used a frother (kind of like a very tiny, battery-powered egg beater) to emulsify the butter oils and get a froth on top rather than an oil slick, but that’s pretty much an aesthetic consideration and not essential (you can get pretty much the same effect by a few teaspoons of ice cream).

Warmed by both the alcohol and the temperature of the beverage, this is a much more seasonally appropriate drink than any chilled cocktail could possibly be. And although some recipes call for a spoonful of sugar to be mixed into the hot buttered rum, I found the sweetness of the rum itself to be sufficient. This sweetness, along with the spices, make this a warm drink you can pair with cheese or even cookies, two other bites that seem right for the dark, cold season ahead.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...