Ti’ Punch is more than just a drink in the French Antilles, it’s a ritual. First there is the rum or rather, the rhum. Rhum agricole has the particularity of being made from fresh sugarcane juice rather than molasses as most rums (the so-called “industrial” or traditional rums). Rhum agricole can be likened to an eau-de-vie obtained by fermenting and distilling sugarcane juice. In Martinique, rhum agricole is protected with an AOC (controlled designation of origin) which regulates the provenance and cultivation of the cane and the production process. These characteristics confer a distinctive flavor profile to the rum. Rhums agricoles are typically grassy, vegetal, funky, and powerful. Whereas most other rums are immediately approachable, rhum agricole can take some getting used to. But once you get hooked to the fresh cane aroma, you never look at rum the same way.
The preparation of ti’ punch is part of the French Caribeean culture. Everyone has their preferred way of making one. I like to add a small amount (about half a barspoon) of sugar cane syrup to a small tumbler. The amount should be enough to barely cover the bottom of the glass. Then I cut a lime “cheek”, a little disk cut from the side of the fruit that is mostly rind with a small amount of pulp attached. The disk is squeezed into the glass to release a small amount of juice and the essential oils from the rind, and the disk is dropped into the glass. If I am using ice (which is nontraditional but makes the drink much more accessible and refreshing), I add a large ice cube at this point. Then, lastly, the rhum – about and ounce and a half. Stirring with a stick made from bois-lélé is the way to go, and this little swizzle stick looks pretty cool with its star shaped branches, but if you don’t have one a small spoon will do.
What is nice with this cocktail is that you can easily make it on the go. You just need to travel with a bottle of rhum agricole (I like to transfer the precious contents into a SIGG aluminum bottle) and a lime. When sugarcane syrup is not available, you can substitute granulated cane sugar for an authentic CRS (citron, rhum, sucre – lemon, rhum agricole and sugar), or a little bit of honey. I’ve seen people add a pinch of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or other Caribbean spices. It’s important to stir well after the addition of lime to make sure that most of the sugar or honey are dissolved before adding the rum. If you don’t have your jigger on hand, 3 tablespoons = 1.5 oz, or simply eyeball it… This simplified version can be made without ice. If you add ice, you can stir by turning the glass in your hand while you savor your drink.
- More information about rhum agricole (here and in this article from the New York Times) and the ti’ punch ritual (in French)