Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Mixology: ‘Ti Punch

Posted on: April 29, 2011

What you know as rum isn’t really rum.  The light rum from, for example, Bacardi with which you’ve been making mojitos is more akin to a vodka, one that happens to have started its life way-back-when as sugar cane.  It is distilled from molasses, and is produced in such a way as to remove fermentation by-products known as congeners, which also provide distinctive flavors to spirits.  Thus, because of the way they are made, most light rums do not have much inherent flavor, and so a strawberry daquiri tastes, not of rum, but of… well, strawberries, I guess.  This is all well and good, if that’s what you’re looking for.

But, one of the cardinal aspects of classic cocktails, at least in the opinion of your humble correspondent, is that they are spirit-forward.  This is a gussied up way of saying that, rather than trying to hide the taste of alcohol, a classic cocktail should showcase, or at least not run away from, the flavors of the underlying booze.  To that end, a category of rums comprised of particularly flavorful and distinctive spirits is rhum agricole.  The extra “h” is French, and, to be sure, rhum agricoles are associated with the French West Indies, e.g. Martinique, Guadeloupe, etc.

What makes rhum agricoles special comes in part from the use of fresh-pressed sugar cane juice in the ferment.  Further, many are produced by the less-efficient, older pot still method of distillation.  The result typically has a grassy, floral fragrance that might remind some of tequila.  Rhum agricole can also be aged, in which case it mellows and takes on a golden (or darker) hue.  Whereas the new stuff, aged in steel tanks for around three months, is clear — like a silver tequila.  Apparently, Rachel Maddow is also a big fan of rhum agricole.  Despite Ms. Maddow’s preferred use of it in a daquiri, however, the best way to use rhum agricole is in a ‘ti punch.

Drunk as an aperitif throughout the French Antilles, its name is a diminutive of the French for “little punch.”  It is a drink almost so basic as to defy exaction.  Indeed, the bartender is often removed from the equation entirely, with each drinker “preparing his own death,” as the custom is known.  A bottle of rhum and glasses are set out, together with a bowl of limes, some cane syrup, and a knife.  Each drinker makes her own, to her own taste.  Here, however, are suitably endorsed proportions to get you started.

‘Ti Punch

1½ oz. rhum agricole (sugg. Clement, Neisson, or La Favorite)

¼ of a lime

1 teaspoon of cane syrup (1 part raw sugar to 1 part water, heated to combine and cooled)

Squeeze the lime into an old fashioned glass, drop the spent lime in, add syrup and rhum.  Stir to combine.

Some purist will say a real ‘ti punch does not have ice.  Screw that, I like a single cube in mine.  Do as you will.

Drink up,


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