Rum has a sordid pedigree, as well as a local one: Much of the rum produced to fuel the slave trade was distilled in New England in the 1700s.
Over the years, the liquor’s unholy roots have been obscured — we now think of mai tai and mojito instead — but rum can still carry a second-class stigma, or at least an association with frat parties and hot days. Offer rum to a friend on a snowy afternoon, and her face may crinkle. Rum and Coke for the cold? Not so much.
There is one drink, however, that bridges the apparent gulf between rum and elegance, or between rum and winter: grog.
The word is synonymous with liquor in some countries, but in its essence, grog is rum diluted with water, and tarted and sweetened with lime, sugar and spices.
The drink was born in the British Navy in the 1700s, when sailors drank booze, typically ale or rum, instead of the stagnant, algae-laced water on the ship. Perhaps they imbibed a little too saucily. In 1740, British Navy Admiral Edward Vernon — nicknamed “Old Grog” — decreed that Navy sailors could only take their rum diluted with water.
Twice a day, the crews would hear the call “Up spirits!” and know the rum rations were about to flow. Grog survived as a part of British sea life until 1970, when Parliament finally nixed the idea of tipsy tars.
Closer to home, rum also marinated generations of New Englanders, albeit taken hot, hot, hot. As with many British things, Americans co-opted rum drinks in creative ways. Flip, once common in colonial taverns, brought eggs, cream, sugar or molasses, rum and beer into a violent froth by plunging a hot iron in their midst.
It would be careless to recommend a drink of rum dissolved in beer, and most of us don’t keep a glowing fireplace poker on hand. Much easier to concoct is grog — hot rum in its most basic form.
Pondering the drink one morning over breakfast, I wondered if Rooibos (African red bush tea) might play well with rum. It does. Especially when dressed up with a splash of applejack and bitters. To make this drink truly local, you could substitute maple syrup for the sugar. This grog is a deep amber, and sweet, sharp and tart all at once.
It’s next to impossible for most of us to know the deep pleasure of a hot drink after a long day of toiling or riding in the frozen landscape, as our colonial forebears did. The closest most of us come is a day spent clearing, skiing or otherwise romping in the snow. Grog is best taken after such a day, or sipped at the window while you watch someone else shovel. Either way, it’ll keep the scurvy at bay as a gentle haze envelops you.
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4 ounces Rooibos tea
2 ounces dark rum (such as Cruzan Black Strap)
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar or maple syrup
Splash of applejack
Juice of 1/2 navel orange
Juice of 1/2 lime
Dash of bitters
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
Brew a mug of Rooibos tea and add to a saucepan. Add rum and cloves and bring to a simmer over very low heat. Stir in sugar or syrup until dissolved. Decant to a clear glass mug with cinnamon stick. Add applejack, orange and lime juices, and dash of bitters and stir. Garnish with orange and serve.