It’s the national drink of Martinique, a favorite of rhum enthusiasts everywhere, and scarcely known outside of those circles, but the ‘Ti Punch is one of the most easily sipped tropical libations ever concocted.
2 oz Rhum Agricole
.25 oz Lime Juice
1 tsp cane syrup
Mix all ingredients in a glass with ice (1 or 2 cubes) and either stir or swizzle with a bois lele (aka Swizzle Stick)
‘Ti Punch (pronounced “tee paunch” or with the anglicized “tee punch” if you must) is a simple drink. A combination of rum, sugar, and lime juice, the ‘Ti Punch largely follows the blueprint of the quintessential cane spirit cocktail. The grog served to British sailors, the Caipirinha, and the ubiquitous Daiquiri all follow this same basic principle of a wonderful rum sour. Well, the British Navy Grog probably wasn’t so wonderful.
“‘Ti Punch” is actually short for “petite punch” and literally means “small punch.” It is consumed all over the French Caribbean, but is probably most associated in the US with the island of Martinique. Ed Hamilton of The Ministry of Rum points out that in the French Caribbean ‘Ti Punch consumption likely accounts for the majority of rhum consumption on the islands and that, “[w]hen you see rhum punch on a menu you can expect a ti punch and nothing else. There are other punches, but if it is anything other a ti punch the menu will say so.”
The recipe I’ve provided here is not the official recipe for Ti’ Punch. That’s because there is no official recipe. The drink is casual and laid-back and supposed to be tailored to the taste of the drinker. There are no rules set in stone.
“We have this saying in Martinique: ‘chacun prépare sa propre mort’ which translates to be ‘Each one prepares their own death,’” says Ben Jones, executive at Rhum Clément and descendent of Rhum Clément founder, Homère Clément. “I truly appreciate when a ‘Ti Punch is served deconstructed because I like to prepare my own. A tray would have a bottle of Sirop or natural sugar, cut limes, a bowl of ice and a bottle of rhum.”
Of course, this sort of ritual and serving style isn’t very prevalent in a bar setting outside of the Caribbean. In most bars if you order a drink, the bartender is going to follow his/her/the bar’s recipe for the drink. In the bars across the US where you can order a ‘Ti Punch, it is often made with very precise measurements.
Ben says that he’s beginning to see that change somewhat as bars and bartenders try to embrace the historical nature of the drink. “The greatest virtue about ‘Ti Punch is that it should be made the way the consumer likes it. I draw a parallel to the Old-Fashion as this is a classic drink that is often customized to the liking of the person who makes or orders the drink.”
How does Ben like his ‘Ti Punch?
“I like a ‘Ti Punch with one large ice cube or a teaspoon of crushed ice and I vary from rhum blanc, Eléve Sous Bois and V.S.O.P. for my ‘Ti Punch depending on my mood and occasion. I also always prefer Sirop over sugar.”
“The best recipe that I can give you is about ¼ – ½ teaspoon of Petit Canne Sugar Cane Syrup and approximately 1 ¾ ounces of 50° rhum agricole blanc, more or less rhum to taste…with slices of lime.”
Fresh limes are a must with the ‘Ti Punch. And when I say “fresh limes” I mean that the lime juice should go directly from lime to glass with no bottle in-between. I like to cut two slivers of limes and squeeze them into my glass and sometimes even drop the spent slivers into the glass as well if the mood strikes or the garbage is more than a foot away.
I never make my ‘Ti Punch without ice, and have included ice in my recipe. I live in the USA, where ice grows on trees and small ice fairies leave blocks of clear, filtered, reverse-osmosised frozen water under our pillows at night.
Traditionally the drinkers of ‘Ti Punch went without the chilling effect of ice. Ice has never really been ubiquitous in the Caribbean like it is here. Still, Ed Hamilton says not to worry. “In the islands, ice is not frowned upon though traditionally the drink was not served with ice since it was in short supply or simply not available until about the last 50 years.”
The sugar in the recipe can be regular table sugar or rich simple syrup, but what you really want is real cane syrup or sirop de canne. There are several producers of real cane syrup, and it does make a world of difference.
It’s very popular in Martinique to spice the syrup with a little cinnamon or allspice, giving the drink a more punchy feel to it. It also isn’t uncommon to add a little honey, as I learned when a young lady from Martinique visited 320 Main and allowed me (after only a little begging) to make her a ‘Ti Punch (long story short: I got a gold star for my rendition).
The ‘Ti Punch is usually served as an apertif before meals and gatherings, but I find that it pretty much works whenever your eyes are open and your throat isn’t sufficiently moistened. I’ve been known to make one of these on a whim before, during, and after meals or even as a nightcap right before bed. Maybe I should be living in Martinique instead of Orange County.
Question Of The Day:
How do you like your ‘Ti Punch?