The rum world is a place of multifaceted beauty, and one of the more captivating styles of the spirit is the category of rhum agricole, traditionally made in the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Our July/August issue touches on a few ways talented bartenders are using rhum agricole in cocktails, but this flavorful type of rum (made from fresh sugarcane juice, not molasses) is most frequently encountered in a drink called the Ti’ Punch, one of the essential and original rum cocktails.
Rumba in Seattle has what’s possibly the largest selection of rhum agricole in the country, and the Ti’ Punch features prominently on the bar’s menu. We asked general manager Kate Perry why rhum agricole and the Ti’ Punch play such a big role at the bar; here’s what she had to say.
Perry: Ti’ Punch is the national drink of Martinique and widely popular in the French West Indies. Most rhum consumed is unaged, or blanc, and most of its consumption is in the Ti’ Punch format: a healthy pour of rhum, a gentle squeeze of lime, a dash of sirop de canne [sugarcane syrup].
Martinique distillers save their very best rhum for their unaged spirit, and strive to make the most perfect distillate possible. Ti’ Punch is the most simple use of the neat spirit in a cocktail. There is an unmatched elegance in that. Undiluted and served at room temperature, the Ti’ Punch is one of the most uncomplicated yet complex drinks out there.
While Ti’ Punch isn’t yet a household name in the States, it is essential and integral to French island culture. Ti’ Punch is consumed before, during and after dinner; it’s a greeting to visitors; a chance to relax with friends
Upon introduction to rhum agricole and Ti’ Punch, a first-time sipper might be startled. Rhum agricole is so different from the molasses-based rums that most of us are familiar with, so it can be hard to define what that is in your glass! Rhum agricole can be aggressively funky, green and vegetal. It can also be proofy—most rhum agricole comes in around 50 percent ABV—and it’s wildly aromatic. It’s complex, and new flavors blossom and change with sip after sip. Look for notes of grass, ripe tropical fruit, green vegetables and fresh cane.
Once you’ve tried your first Ti’ Punch and get the hang of it, the world of French rhum opens its doors to you. In proper chacun prepare sa propre mort form [roughly, “each prepares his own death”], you mix your own drink the way that appeals to you. Alter this formula a bit and you get something more tart or more lush.
The character of the spirit varies across the different islands and distilleries. A Ti’ Punch using unaged rhum from Guadeloupe and Martinique will make a very different drink. Adding rhum that’s spent some time in the barrel varies it further. Try using a different sirop de canne—some even come with spices added—and you have a new drink altogether. Try adding a little ice to the mix and you’ll soften the drink and add a refreshing chill.
Since all a Ti’ Punch requires is the rhum of your choice, cane syrup, a lime, a glass, and something to stir it with, this should be everyone’s beach day or camping drink. In a world of so much new technology and fancy tools, there’s something exciting about how little is needed to make this drink. You don’t even need ice.