Hot buttered rum

Since temperatures are plunging as I write this series, I cheerfully pass on to you TOCSC’s recipe for hot buttered rum: mix one cup of softened, salted butter, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon nutmeg. This will keep in the refrigerator for a long time. When your fingers are turning blue from the cold, remove the blend from the fridge, mix 1 teaspoon of it with 2 ounces of dark rum and add hot water to taste.

Irish Coffee

As long as we’re on the subject of warming drinks, consider Irish Coffee. This drink was invented one night in the tiny town of Foynes, Ireland, the predecessor of Shannon Airport. In 1942 the first nonstop flight from New York arrived in only 25 hours and 40 minutes!

A year later a flight was delayed in bad weather and a fellow at Foynes Airport named Joe Sheridan whipped up something to warm up the passengers – he poured some Irish whiskey into their coffee and the rest was history.

A mere forty years later my own flight was stranded at Shannon Airport and a bartender insisted that a couple of Irish Coffees would cheer us up nicely. He was right. To your favorite coffee add two teaspoons sugar, a healthy dollop of Jameson’s, and top it off with some heavy cream.

The Kamikaze

Made up of roughly equal parts vodka, Curaçao, and lime juice, the Kamikaze (it means “divine wind” in Japanese) is a drink not to be trifled with. When asked to explain how the Kamikaze differed from the gimlet, a bartender remarked, “You don’t feel like killing yourself after a gimlet.”

The Kir

The Kir is made with white wine and crème de cassis and was originally known as a “blanc-cassis.” (The Kir Royale substitutes champagne for the wine and is traditionally served in a fluted glass.) Later though, the name was changed to the Kir in honor of the legendary French Resistance fighter Félix Kir, a priest who was later Mayor of Dijon. The name was changed because of Félix Kir’s fondness for the drink and of France’s fondness for Félix.


I’ve already alluded to layering when I described my enthusiasm for the rum floater. A rum floater is, after all, just dark rum “layered” on top of whatever spirit is already in the glass.

But rum floaters are true pikers compared to the layering craze that seized the bartending world just before and, especially, just after, Prohibition. Layering works for the same reason that rum floaters work – many spirits have a specific gravity different from other spirits – that is, they have differing densities.

Rum, for example, has a specific gravity of 0.94 while chartreuse has a specific gravity of 1.01 – rum will float on top of chartreuse. Similarly, chartreuse will float on top of Campari (s.g. of 1.06), which will float on top of Sambuca (s.g. of 1.09), all the way down to that Grenadine at the bottom of your glass (s.g. of 1.18) which won’t float on top of anything.

Following the end of Prohibition bartenders were eager to show the public what they could do, and one of the things they could do was to create layered drinks. More commonly referred to as “pousse-café”  drinks, some of these concoctions are still common today – the B-52, for example, which is equal parts coffee liqueur, Irish cream liqueur, and orange-flavored liqueur layered in a shot glass.

According to TOCSC, a few bars were creating astonishing cocktails with as many as fourteen colorful layers. These drinks were beautiful, but unfortunately they were a disaster in every other way. As soon as you tried to pick them up the layers mixed with each other, turning the drink brown. And even if you were very careful, the drinks tasted positively awful. With a few exceptions, the layering craze passed quickly into history.

Old Overholt

For many years I ran a family office for the Mellon family. Although the family is best-known for launching companies like Mellon Bank, Gulf Oil, ALCOA and so on, the family also owned the distillery that made Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey.

Launched in 1810 by Henry Oberholzer, a German Mennonite farmer in Western Pennsylvania, Old Overholt is both the oldest continuously-produced rye whiskey in the world and “At one time … the most popular spirit in the country.” (Jim Beam website)

Old Overholt’s history of ownership paralleled the great industrialists of Pittsburgh. Henry Oberholt (as the name was now Anglicized) had a great-grandson named Henry Clay Frick – yes, that Henry Clay Frick, the one partly responsible for the Johnstown flood and the Homestead steel strike.

In 1881 Frick became the manager of the Old Overholt distillery, but as a vastly wealthy man who was Chairman of Carnegie Steel, Frick had little time to devote to the distillery and he treated it almost as a hobby. To spread the risk of his inattentiveness he took on two partners, one of whom was Andrew W. Mellon.

Despite no one paying much attention, Old Overholt prospered, becoming one of the first whiskeys to sell its product in bottles rather than in barrels. That assured the consumer that the product was unadulterated, and in the process Old Overholt became the first national brand in the spirits world.

When Frick died in 1919 he left his share of the business to Mellon, who became the majority owner. The very next year Prohibition began, putting virtually all distillers out of business, but miraculously Old Overholt was able to obtain a certificate to continue to sell its whiskey “to druggists for medicinal use.” Andrew Mellon happened to be Secretary of the Treasury at the time. Coincidence?

For whatever reason a lot of people (these people were called “Prohibitionists”) felt that it was unseemly for the American Treasury Secretary to own the biggest whiskey brand in the world during Prohibition, and Mellon was forced to sell Old Overholt in 1925. I didn’t become head of the family office until 54 years later, so I missed out on all the fun.

Today, Old Overholt is produced by Jim Beam and, together with Old Grandad Bourbon, is marketed as “The Olds.”

I’ll bring this long and intoxicating series to a somber, if not sober, end next week.

Next up: The Oxford Companion, Part 15

[To subscribe or unsubscribe, drop me a note at]

Please note that this post is intended to provide interested persons with an insight on the capital markets and other matters and is not intended to promote any manager or firm, nor does it intend to advertise their performance. All opinions expressed are those of Gregory Curtis and do not necessarily represent the views of Greycourt & Co., Inc., the wealth management firm with which he is associated. The information in this report is not intended to address the needs of any particular investor.

Visit the Greycourt website »