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Ho Ho Ho... and A Shot of Rum

Drinks that bring out the holiday spirit in Buffalo have a spirit in common

It happened a little later than usual, but the sub-32-degree temperatures and blustery winds of winter have finally taken a grip on the Queen City. The idea of a cold weather drink here might make a few people scratch their heads. This is Buffalo, right? A beer and three fingers of whiskey works in any season. That may be true, however there’s something undeniable to be said about the warmth that can be found in that mythical distilled sugarcane fluid once the province of pirates and New World colonialism: rum.

Rum is most famous for warm-weather cocktail favorites like daiquiris, mojitos, and the bevy of tiki drinks that came to favor in the mid-20th century. But it is also is a staple in wintry drinks. As we discivered during a quick bar crawl around Buffalo, forget about going home: There’s nothing like rum for the holidays!

Rum Mash

Torches (1141 Kenmore Avenue, Kenmore)

First stop is just on the other side of the city line, at Torches on Kenmore Avenue. Brothers J. J. and Kevin Richert have deservedly become Western New York’s rock star chefs, making Torches a go-to destination for the culinary enthusiasts by ably mixing traditional American fare with a penchant for left turns and flair for edgy surprises.

The bar at Torches is not only the ideal spot to spend a few minutes while your table is readied but also a comfortable enough a place to relax and lose track of time. The best route to that in winter: some of Torches’ house-made Rum Mash.

You spot it instantly: nestled just behind the bar in a big glass container with a mass of floating ingredients. Inside it is golden rum that’s been infused with apples, cinnamon, and cranberries. Served neat, the first sip of Torches’ Rum Mash conveys a feeling of warmth and a little bit of tingle. The infusion of fruits and spices has softened the edges of the rum and brought out the sweetness but still added to its nuance and innate complexities.

It’s a good way to start to the night, and not the last taste of apples we’ll have.

Hot Buttered Rum

Vera Pizzeria (220 Lexington Avenue)

We next head a block off the Elmwood Village on Lexington for a stop at Vera Pizzeria. Since this place opened a few months ago, local cocktail and mixology fans have been talking up Vera’s bar, and for good reason. The bartenders adhere to the old code of barkeeps, using the best liquors and mixers, adhere to tried-and-true methods, and favor the classic drink recipes, while never being afraid to add to tradition.

Such a twist comes in the form of Vera’s Hot Buttered Rum. The three keys to this drink are right there in the name: rum, hot water, and the butter-based batter. There are hundreds of good variations on hot buttered rum batter; at home, we’ve found success with the one that appears in Wayne Curtis’ And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. The spin Vera puts on the basic batter recipe ranks among the best.

With their cider-based house batter, Vera’s Hot Buttered Rum tastes like a warm blast of apple, cinnamon, and honey, with that old friendly rum always present but never overpowering. Topped with a freshly sliced apple chunk, this is a hot cider that is strong, rich, and ever so tasty. We could happily down another one or two to help warm up the cold night, but there’s more business to attend to across the street at The Place.

photo by Jill Greenberg

Tom & Jerry

The Place (229 Lexington Avenue)

Last year in AV, we chronicled our local pursuit of the December drink to end them all: the Tom & Jerry. This holiday essential, with its key ingredient of an egg-and sugar-based meringue batter, is one of those things we talk wistfully about all year. Served traditionally from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, it actually makes us look beyond the dread of Christmas shopping and snow-shoveling.

There is simply no place in Buffalo where you will find a better Tom & Jerry than The Place. It’s almost defies rational thought as you watch owner Kenny Moriarty take a cheap Santa Claus mug and pour basic, well-grade rum and brandy into it, while adding hot water along with a dollop of the batter.

The secret is indeed that batter.

Somehow The Place has mastered the art of making that magical meringue, taking it to a thick, marshmallowy, and perfectly spiced zenith. It’s one of the few instances where we can say the rum isn’t what’s important to the drink.

For further reading on rum:

And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. A history lesson, recipe guide and essential reading for any rum enthusiast.

Beachbum Berry Remixed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. The modern master and archaeologist of tiki drinks shares the secrets and stories behind many rum-based tropical treats. Ed Hamilton’s web spot dedicated to the pursuit of understanding and enjoying the noble spirit.

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