In the cold winter months that accompany the holiday season, a spiked libation can bring an atmosphere of cheer and celebration to your home. Rum is the ideal spirit for this time of year: It can signify a tropical vibe — after all, the spirit was first produced in the West Indies, in particular Barbados and other Caribbean islands. Rum can also easily blend into warming, cool-weather cocktails thanks to its spiced, earthy, almost buttery flavors.
Today, rum is produced around the world, from the Philippines to Martinique and back. The cocktails made from rum are just as varied, and some have origin stories that date all the way back to pre-colonial America.
Spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg accompany winter citrus like oranges and tart cranberries for a festive feel in rum punch or rum-spiked cider. There are creamy options, too, like Puerto Rican coquito and the whipped, frothy Tom & Jerry cocktail. Others embrace rum’s tropical reputation by incorporating ingredients like blue curaçao — perhaps reminding those of us shivering under blankets that summer will come again. Festive rum cocktails can be served warm or cold, but on a snowy night, a simple cup of warm rum topped with a pat of butter — yes butter! — will melt your winter blues.
Whether you’re making a big batch of cocktails for a tight-knit group of loved ones or nursing a drink for one during a quiet night at home, holiday cheer is easily captured in a warm mug or a cocktail glass. All you need to do is add rum.
1. Ponche crema
Sometimes also known as Venezuelan eggnog, this creamy rum (which features a citrus twist) drink is traditionally served around Christmas. It can also be purchased in a premade jug, first introduced to Venezuela by a chemist named Eliodoro Gonzalez in 1904. Another version, called ponche a crème is also popular in Trinidad and Tobago, though you’re likely to find riffs on it throughout the Caribbean. It’s so beloved in Trinidad and Tobago that there’s even a song about it: “…We passing through Picadilly / Everybody dancing and singing the same melody. / Drink a rum and a punch-a-crema, drink a rum…”
What’s in it: One can of sweetened condensed milk, one cup of rum, six egg yolks, one cup of whole milk, lime zest, and nutmeg
Coquito translates to little coconut, and the cocktail is traditionally enjoyed on Christmas in Puerto Rico. Recipes vary from family to family, but the one constant is that a bottle of homemade coquito is a presence on the table throughout the holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. It’s hard to pin down the origins of coquito, but it could spring from Puerto Rico’s history of slavery and colonization: Spanish colonists drank possets (hot milk curdled with alocohol) to which they probably added rum. They also began cultivating coconut plants on the island in the early 1500s, which were brought to Puerto Rico, alongside enslaved people from the West African islands of Cape Verde. These imported flavors hold the key to coquito’s enduring popularity in Puerto Rico.
What’s in it: One can cream of coconut, one can of sweetened condensed milk, one can of evaporated milk, 12 ounces white rum. Spice with ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground nutmeg.
3. Hot milk punch
Did you ever drink a glass of warm milk, maybe spiced with some nutmeg or cinnamon, to help you relax and fall asleep before bed as a kid? Well, this is the grown-up version of that drink. Warm enough to help you get cozy on a cold night with a touch of sweetness and spice, this creamy cocktail is a classic in the South. It’s especially popular in New Orleans, where the rum is combined with bourbon for an extra kick. A version with just brandy and bourbon (no rum) originated at Brennan’s Restaurant in the French Quarter.
What’s in it: One ounce of dark rum, one ounce of brandy or bourbon, enough milk to fill your glass, and nutmeg for garnish.
4. Hot buttered rum
In the 1770s, New England had 159 distilleries. A large percentage of these made rum from Caribbean molasses, according to the New York Times. With an abundance of rum in their pantries, the colonists invented a multitude of creative variations on the rum cocktail — including whipping it together with egg whites or cream. They also added hot butter. David Wonderich suggests in his book Imbibe that this was the origin of hot buttered rum in the United States, and he writes that it’s appeared throughout the annals of American cocktail tradition in books like The Bartenders Guide, published in 1887. Hot buttered rum saw a revival in the 1940s with the publication of Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink. The legendary tiki bar chain framed hot buttered rum as a tropical cocktail, serving it inside a skull mug with a so-called batter of butter, spices, and brown sugar.
What’s in it: Four ounces of butter, half a cup of light brown sugar, two ounces of aged or dark rum, six ounces of boiling water, and one teaspoon of spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and vanilla (makes a pitcher).
5. Christmas rum punch
There are many variations on Christmas rum punch, but most incorporate tart cranberries (which you’ll often find on the dinner table on Thanksgiving and Christmas in the form of cranberry sauce) alongside rum and sparkling wine or Champagne. This fizzy beverage is often served in a punch bowl or a pitcher, making it ideal for holiday parties where the atmosphere is celebratory. Other winter fruits like oranges, pomegranate seeds, and limes are often used for garnish, too.
What’s in it: Five cups of cranberry juice, five cups of sparkling wine, two cups of apple cider, 1.5 cups of rum, and fresh sliced oranges and whole cranberries for garnish (makes a pitcher).
6. Mulled apple cider
Hot apple cider is delicious on its own, but the addition of rum adds to the spice of the apples. Cider is an ancient drink, and adding more booze to the mixture goes back just about as far. There’s evidence that people living on the British Isles were drinking hard apple cider, and they made a mulled cider with spices and honey called wassail during a celebration of the same name. The Romans enjoyed it enough that they spread it throughout their empire. And of course, as Smithsonian magazine points out, when European colonists began settling in North America, they discovered that apple trees thrived in New England, which started a love affair with cider in that region, too.
Like with mulled wine, spirits were eventually added to the mix, building on this long history of drinking mulled cider with a rum-spiked mulled apple cider. Many classic recipes call for rum, but you can add bourbon or brandy, too.
What’s in it: One gallon of apple cider, one orange, whole cloves, star anise pods, 1.5 cups of rum, and orange slices for garnish.
7. Jack Frost
Who could blame you if you’re missing the sunshine in the dead of winter? That might explain the appeal of the Jack Frost — a tropical twist on the traditional Christmas cocktail. It combines blue curaçao and coconut cream, two ingredients you’re more likely to find in a tiki bar in Hawaii than the North Pole. In fact, though there is no known origin story behind this cocktail, it’s reminiscent of the iconic Blue Hawaiian cocktail. You might find it served in bars where the weather is still warm in the winter months, perfect for revelers who want to be festive but don’t enjoy the taste of the earthy, warm spices that appear in most other holiday cocktails. Coconut flakes around the rim are reminiscent of snow.
What’s in it: Half a cup of cream of coconut, half a cup of blue curaçao, half a cup of light rum, one cup of pineapple juice, and coconut flakes for rim (makes about six servings).
8. Tom & Jerry
British journalist Pierce Egan created the Tom & Jerry cocktail in the 1820s, perhaps as a way to promote his book, Life in London, which features two characters of the same name. However, Jerry Thomas, a New York City bartender credited with popularizing mixology in the United States, also laid claim to the cocktail, insisting that he was the first to record the recipe in his book How to Mix Drinks. Regardless of who made it, this rich, frothy concoction is super sweet and thick — a decadent Christmas treat to reward yourself for wrapping all those presents.
Tom & Jerry bowls and mugs have inspired cult-like collectors who pick up the inscribed cups, designed specifically for this cocktail, at antique shops. According to Punch, “companies from Japan to England to Ohio” produce the ceramic or porcelain bowls, and the first recorded mention of one appears in an account of an 1864 bar fight in New York.
What’s in it: First make a batter from 12 eggs; one teaspoon of cream of tartar; one teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla; one cup of sugar; two ounces of rum; and one stick of butter. Add the batter to one ounce of dark rum, one ounce of cognac, and four ounces milk.