Nothing says "holiday" like butter and booze and this season, Western New York bartenders are blending two of America’s favorite things for their own takes on a drink older than the country itself.
Hot buttered rum dates back as early as the 1650s, when molasses first appeared in the colonies from Jamaica and distilleries opened in New England. Earliest iterations were made with sugar or honey, boiling water, spices and in the case of the hot buttered rum, a pat of butter.
As the drink evolved, a “batter” was sometimes made with eggs and milk, to emulsify the butter and give the beverage a creamy consistency. This season, several bartenders across the area are presenting their own twists on the recipe.
Vera Pizzeria, 220 Lexington Ave., $10
At the Prohibition-style bar that started Buffalo’s craft cocktail trend, it’s no surprise hot buttered rum makes an appearance. The bar has made a name for itself creating new takes on old favorites, and this is no exception. Bar manager Jason Wood said he likes rum and other dark spirits for their warming qualities.
“These spirits embody the tastes we associate with the season,” he said. “Cinnamon, nutmeg and the sweetness of oak barrels are perfect for the cold weather.”
Unlike many of the staff’s creations, the recipe is simple: rum, buttered hot cider and a lemon twist. The buttered cider is a fresh take on the spices traditionally used with the hot water and rum, with sweet, velvety and slightly spiced results. Look for hints of cinnamon and cooked fruit from the cider and that oaky spice from the rum, which blooms when heated.
The butter separates out from the cider fairly quickly, but don’t let that scare you. The slick mouthfeel just enhances the cozy decadence of sipping a big old mug of warm liquor.
Buffalo Proper, 333 Franklin St., $10
Speaking of warm liquor, at downtown's Buffalo Proper, bar manager Jon Karel harkened back to the drink’s roots, blending Chef Ed Forster’s housemade butter with a dash of simple syrup, Ron Zacapa rum and plenty of cinnamon.
“I think people are getting back to the classics, realizing that these drinks we’ve been drinking forever have stuck around for a reason,” Karel explained, for the inspiration behind the presentation. “This drink showcases the rum beautifully, showing off the spicy sweetness and of course, that beautiful butter.”
Karel’s version is creamy, rich and perfectly balanced, proving a delicious drink doesn’t have to be complicated to shine. Forster’s butter creates a foamy head with no greasy aftertaste and none of that oil slick layer that turns off some sippers. In this case, the quality of the ingredients really does make all the difference.
At first, Karel was making the cocktail with Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum, but decided that spirit is better suited to the Tom & Jerry. Zacapa, a Guatemalan rum, is a stronger character with a nuttier, deeper flavor that balances well against the dairy.
Black Iron Bystro, 3648 South Park Ave., Blasdell, $7
The Hot Buttered Rum variation at the Blasdell Bystro came about when owner Bryan Mecozzi discovered he had leftover apple cider from a brine he’d used elsewhere in the restaurant. Playing off the recipe he had first learned when working at Vera, Mecozzi added allspice to the mix, for a slightly spicier, warming version of that apple cider-based drink.
“It’s a little like apple pie,” Mecozzi said. “But, you know, with rum.”
At Mecozzi’s place, the hot buttered rum is served with an apple slice and cinnamon stick to accentuate the spices, a complement the colonists used liberally, often to mask the burn of lower-quality spirits as the new distilleries worked out their product.
Appleton’s is used in this version, for a sweetly spiced base and the butter takes more of a backseat, highlighting the interplay between the spirit and spice.
As one customer told me recently after trying it, “This drink just makes me smile.”
Tony Rome’s Globe Hotel, 711 Main St., East Aurora, $4
The East Aurora mainstay has been making this recipe for 20 years, using melted ice cream and sugar for its basis. That may seem like an odd ingredient, but using ice cream actually dates back decades, a nod to the frugality of using what’s already around instead of precious sugar and butter.
At Rome’s, regulars know hot buttered rum season starts at Thanksgiving time, and look for the drink when the mercury drops every year.
This is the only one of the bunch available without alcohol, because this take on the classic is more similar to a Tom & Jerry than a hot toddy. The cream and sugar are blended for a batter that masks the butter, creating more of a dessert than cocktail hour drink. It’s sweet, slightly spiced and a real taste treat, at more than half the price of the rest.
Whether you go for the sweet, the spiced or the cider, imagine Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin cozying up to the fire with the same. It’s hard not to think about what else has lasted since before the Constitution and what that means about the simple elegance of recipes that stand the test of time and trends.
While rum and spices are a holiday standard on many cocktail menus this time of year, these four are the best, most authentic iterations of the colonial classic. Try one or all of them as the temperatures drop, to keep your cockles warm this winter.
Lizz Schumer is the content manager at Resurgence Brewing Company and writes about food, drink and whimsy for a variety of publications. She is the author of Buffalo Steel and can be found online @eschumer, facebook.com/authorlizzschumer and lizzschumer.com.