Wednesday, November 25, 2009


He waved the man away and turned to Charles Mason. "Now, my young buck," he said, "I have ten shillings here that say I can beat you at your favorite game of billiards. Want to bet? Of course you do. Well, let's go down to the Merchant's Coffeehouse and try our skill. And before we start to play I'll treat you to a rum fustian."

"Rum fustian I May I inquire what that is?"

"Oh, I forgot that you are from the benighted land of Virginia, where your favorite drink is eggnog or mint julep. A rum fustian, my dear sir, is made of beer, sherry, gin, the yolks of eggs, sugar and a little nutmeg all stirred together and heated with a red-hot loggerhead."

Mason reflected a minute. "That sounds like a strong drink," he said. "But why do they call it rum fustian when there's no rum in it?"

"That's where the fustian part comes in, my inquiring lad," said the Major. "Fustian as you know means an imitation." 1
While flipping through Jerry Thomas' How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-vivant's Companion, I came across a curious egg drink served hot, the Rumfustian, which as the bit of history above describes contains no rum at all. Thomas gave the history as "a drink very much in vogue with English sportsmen, after their return from a day's shooting." 2 Histories across the web did not confirm the sportsmen lore, but suggested it was a drink of English university students, American colonial settlers, and pirates dating back to the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. The "rum" part of the name derives from the gypsy word for powerful, and evidence of its strength was written about in colonial America. There, the drink was often drank at breakfast and its consumption took a toll on the efficiency and character of the settlers.3

The recipe I used was from Thomas and I provide the volumes I used to make two servings in parentheses:
• 12 Egg Yolks (2)
• 1 quart Beer (5 1/3 oz Mayflower Porter)
• 1 pint Gin (2 2/3 oz Beefeater)
• 1 bottle Sherry (4 oz Lustau Don Nuño Dry Oloroso)
• 1 stick Cinnamon (1/6)
• 1 Nutmeg (1/6)
• 12 large lump Sugar (2 tsp Turbinado)
• 1 rind Lemon Peel (1/6)
Heat sherry in a sauce pan with cinnamon, nutmeg (grated), sugar, and lemon peel. Mix egg yolks, beer, and gin. When sherry comes to a boil, pour (while straining) into bowl with the yolks, beer, and gin. Serve hot.
I mixed the yolk, gin, and beer in a cocktail shaker instead of whisking in a bowl (be careful to degas it every few shakes to save from making a mess as the beer decarbonates). I also left the shaker in a bowl of hot water to warm up the contents since it contained a larger volume than the hot sherry. In addition, I grated some nutmeg over the top of each cup before serving.
The beer I used from the Mayflower Brewery and was somewhat smokey; its flavors mainly came through on the first part of the sip. The cinnamon, nutmeg, and nutty sherry flavors then followed this initial malty wave. We debated whether or not we could taste the gin as it was rather well masked by the spices. Moreover, the egg yolk provided a thick, rich mouthfeel, but unlike egg white, it did not mute the drink to any degree. In addition, the Rumfustian was not as sweet as eggnog, or perhaps my interpretation of a "large lump" to be a teaspoons-worth of sugar fell short. Some might prefer this drink to be a bit sweeter so adjust accordingly. And interestingly, as the drink cooled, the spice notes diminished with the beer taking a greater prominence in the flavor profile.
Overall, the drink was pretty complex, heavy, and at first a bit bizarre. However, with successive sips, the drink grew on us and the taste became addictive. With the warmth and spice profile, I could see the Rumfustian being a great treat after coming in from the cold. And if Jerry Thomas' lore is correct, it would most certainly help you to forget an unsuccessful day of hunting.

1 Woodward, W.E. The Way Our People Lived: An Intimate American History. E.P. Dutton & Company, 1944.
2 Thomas, J. How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-vivant's Companion. Dick & Fitzgerald, 1862.
3 History of Alcohol in America.


erik.ellestad said...

Nice article!

About all I'd say is that the time frame for the drink probably places it squarely in Genever or (maybe) Old-Tom territory. Unlikely that it would have been made with a London Dry Gin.

frederic said...

I didn't even consider what would be the appropriate gin for the era. I was thinking of what would be the most detectable flavor-wise in the mix which is why I went with one of the hardier ones. Good point though.