I’m on pretty good terms with most drinks in the canon of classical mixology. Things that used to freak me out, like the in-your-face herbaceousness of Chartreuse or the sharp bitter bite of Campari, have long since become things I crave, and even weird and funky stuff like Batavia arrack or a skunky rum are things I can get into when I’m in the proper mood.
But there are a few drinks that never really grabbed me, and until very recently one of those was the Hot Buttered Rum. While I like each of the components on their own or in combination with other things — I mean, rum, spices, butter, sugar; c’mon! — the idea of a hot mug of booze speckled with glistening polka-dots of milkfat just didn’t appeal to me in any way.
As I wrote recently for Serious Eats, I finally made peace with Hot Buttered Rum around the holidays, when — after an early December cold snap that made me rekindle my relationship with hot toddies — I was in the mood for something wintery, but that was out of my usual rotation. After snagging bits of recipe advice from a number of blogs & books, I took the elements of each that appealed to me and came to terms with the Hot Buttered Rum.
Mostly, that is. While the flavor is pleasant and soothing, and the texture is silky and luxurious, the sheen of fat that’s coating my lips by the time I’m halfway through the drink is still kind of a turnoff for me. But what to do? How do you get the flavor and aromatics from the butter into the drink, without the accompanying oil slick? Fortunately, there’s fat-washing.
Yes, I know, how very 2008 of me. But I’ve actually been hanging on to this recipe for more than a year, ever since I saw it in the NY Times, flagged it as “try this” and then, um, forgot about it. But last month, while relaxing in my detente with the Hot Buttered Rum, I came across it again and thought it might fit the bill.
Created by my pal Jim Meehan at PDT in New York, the Butter Cup sidesteps the oily booze problem by essentially infusing the butter in the rum, then simply chilling and separating the fat, leaving behind a mixture that has some of butter’s pleasing properties but without the accompanying greasiness. To enhance the butter’s subtle taste, Meehan recommends browning it with vanilla seeds, which gives the rum a rich, nutty perfume and an extra layer of flavor.
When sweetened with Demerara sugar and mixed with hot tea*, the result is an interesting take on the classic Hot Buttered Rum. The butter is more assertively present in the aroma, though it gives a light richness to the flavor along with a trace of salinity in the finish. Meehan calls for English Breakfast tea in the mix; I realized too late that I was out, so I tried the Butter Cup with a nice Assam tea that we had on hand, which didn’t do the drink any harm. The recipe from the Times makes a big batch of rum for a bar (or a party); I’ve scaled down my recipe below, but I can see putting together a batch of this during a cold snap to last through a series of chilly evenings.
created by Jim Meehan
- one-half stick unsalted butter
- 8 ounces rum (Meehan calls for Zacapa, which works great; I can also see this with one of the dark El Dorado rums, or go crazy and try it with one of the older agricoles from Rhum JM)
- 1 vanilla bean
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the butter; stir and continue cooking until the butter lightly browns and the whole thing smells nutty and insanely good. Remove from heat and let cool just enough so it’s not sizzling hot. Pour the rum into a container (no plastic, for god’s sake!) and add the butter. Stir and let it sit to cool for a few minutes, then cover and refrigerate for a day. About an hour or so before you’re ready to strain it, stick the container in the freezer to firm up the layer of butter. Strain the rum through a fine-mesh strainer, and again through a coffee filter to remove the last bits of butter. Keep refrigerated.
For each drink:
- heaping 1/2 teaspoon loose English Breakfast tea
- 4 ounces boiling water, left to cool for a minute
- 1 teaspoon demerara sugar
- 1 1/2 ounces rum mixture
- nutmeg, for garnish
Prepare the tea, steeping the tea leaves for two minutes before straining. Add the rum mixture to a toddy mug and top with 4 ounces of tea. Stir in the sugar, and garnish with nutmeg.