Adventures in Victorian Drinking
Posted by Sara Joyce Robinson

It happens every time I watch Masterpiece Theater. I develop a craving for some archaic food or drink. Like Turkish delight, claret, or mead. Something I have never actually tasted, but sounds so delicious in theory.

Unfortunately, most of these items do not live up to my imaginings, and I find myself disappointed by the vast difference between the palates of Victorian England and modern America. For example, traditional plum pudding. Dickens never explained that there are no plums, or what I consider to be "pudding," in the original recipe. Nope, old Charles failed to mention that the base ingredient is animal fat. Seriously, pure suet.

So when, after a recent binge of BBC dramas, I could not get the idea of Hot Buttered Rum out of my mind, I approached the idea of this beverage with caution. It sounds soothing, bracing. Something Ebenezer Scrooge enjoyed after the three ghosts taught him the true meaning of Christmas. Or something taken after a day of skiing in the Alps, as a warm-up, before it's time to dress for dinner.

But I've become wary over the years, and know some things are better left in memory, than experienced in reality. Rum has never been among my favorite liquors (after an incident with the coconut-flavored variety in college ... don't ask), and I just couldn't wrap my mind around the idea of butter in my cocktail. It could be slimy, could coat my throat and leave a gummy residue on my teeth.

However, there were three more episodes of Masterpiece Theater on my DVR, so I sucked it up and took the plunge. After consulting my big book of cocktail recipes, I decided to start with the most straight-forward one. I put a teaspoon of dark brown sugar in a highball glass, and then filled it halfway with hot water. After stirring to melt the sugar, I added two ounces of dark rum. On top of all this, I dropped in a float of butter, cut straight from the stick in my fridge. The pat of butter began to soften and melt at the edges, but remained an identifiable square.

Then, the moment of truth. I sipped cautiously. Warm, pleasantly so. A molasses-y sweetness, not overpowering. The rum rich, not too spicy. And then the melted butter reached my tongue. It was slightly cool, just a faint presence, and as soon as it touched my taste buds, it transformed the other flavors. Somehow the thin dab of butter fused the various ingredients into the distinct taste of hard caramel candies. The kind my grandfather used to keep in his pocket when I was a child. I drank again, this time trying to avoid the butter, and tasted only sweet rum. When I drank a third time, making sure to get some butter, I tasted that distinctive hard candy flavor.

Only then did I realize an important fact-I liked it!

Hot buttered rum is a beverage for sipping, not chugging. It is rich, and the flavor quite intense. I was satisfied with my first my cup, and did not need another. But I will definitely make hot buttered rum again. Next time, I might take the suggestion of replacing the hot water with hot milk, or perhaps adding extra spice. The internet revealed a vast array of options, including one that suggested "caramelizing" the drink by mixing the ingredients, and then inserting a red hot poker (!) into the glass for thirty seconds. As I am not a blacksmith, that option is a bit beyond my abilities, so for now, I'll be content with adding a tasty beverage to my repertoire.

So friends, what should I try next? I hear they are making a new movie version of "The Great Gatsby." Champagne cocktails, anyone? Gimlets?


Sara Joyce Robinson is a native of Southern California, where she was raised, educated, and still lives. She received her MFA in Fiction from the University of California, Irvine, and you can see what she is up to at

Categories: Beverage Industry, Spirits

Posted by Sara Joyce Robinson on March 26, 2012 02:32 pm | Permalink 

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