Why Rhum — Not Rum — Is the Ideal Base for Summer Cocktails

Plus: How to make a Ti' Punch, which is delicious and impossible to screw up

ti punch
A typical Ti Punch DIY setup in Martinique
Arnaud 25 / Wiki Creative Commons
By Kirk Miller / July 10, 2020 10:04 am

“If the daiquiri and an Old Fashioned had a baby, it’d be this.”

That’s how Ben Jones, the Managing Director of rum specialists Spiribam, describes Ti’ Punch. 

Besides combining the ideals of three excellent cocktail staples — sugar, citrus, spirit — Ti’ Punch is also the easiest and most refreshing drink you’ll make this summer. And by easy, we mean a cocktail that’s three ingredients with no exact measurements or intricate bar tools needed, and a lot of leeway to alter the recipe how you want.

But first, an explanation: This is a rhum-based drink. Not rum, but “rhum.” A shortened version of rhum agricole (“agricultural rum”), this is the spirit you’ll find on French Caribbean islands. It’s distilled from fresh sugarcane juice instead of molasses. “It’s a very different flavor profile,” explains Kiowa Bryan, Spiribam’s National Brand Manager. “I’d almost say unaged agricole is more similar to a tequila than a traditional ‘rum.’ It’s a very nuanced spirit — it smells grassy, not like the toffee properties of a molasses-based rum.” It’s also fruity and funky on the nose.

The central spirit of Martinique, rhum agricole will take on a different flavor profile based on where the distillery is based on the tiny island, due to the area’s surprisingly vast climate differences. And if you’re wondering why Americans tend to gravitate toward sweeter “rums,” you can once again blame Prohibition — turns out we developed a liking for Cuban-style rums because once upon a time, that’s where we had drinking access.

rhum
These two bottles, lime and a glass is all you need
Spiribam

Spiribam represents Rhum Clement and Rhum J.M., two of the leading rhum labels (they also work with Saint Lucia Distillers, an English Caribbean rum). Both brands possess an “AOC Martinique” accreditation that conveys a set of standards regarding age statements, distillation and fermentation. 

But enough of a spirits lesson and onto the cocktail.

Ti’ Punch is a traditional Martinique cocktail and pretty much works as a reverse daiquiri, with a tiny bit of lime and sugar and a lot of rhum. It’s also versatile. “In the time of coronavirus, if you don’t have a lime, you can use lemon or grapefruit or even dry sherry or vinegar. You just want an acidic component, a sweet component and a 100-proof Rhum JM,” says Bryan. 

Ti Punch
Your author attempting a Ti Punch at home via a Zoom tutorial
Kirk Miller

A loose recipe for Ti Punch is as follows:

Get a nice lime (don’t put ‘em in the fridge, because “they have to have some give you squeeze it,” says Jones). Cut out a “lime coin,” which is basically a small circle of lime that’s 50% zest and 50% pulp. Squeeze it to express all the juices and oils, then drop the now taco-shaped coin in your glass. Fill the glass with rhum (white or gold/aged) until it reaches the lips of the lime. Add in a Sugar in the Raw packet or some sugarcane syrup, then use a swizzle stick or bar spoon to get a froth going and integrate all the ingredients. 

That’s it. No ice. “There’s nothing more thirst quenching than this rum cocktail with no ice at ambient temperature with 100-proof rhum on a hot day,” claims Jones. And the best part? You can prep your drink however you like — traditionally, the drink ingredients are served on a platter so you can make your own. 

“It’s kind of like cooking,” says Bryan. “They have an expression in Martinique, chacun prépare sa propre mort, or ‘each one prepares their own death.’ It’s another way to say prepare it to your liking, with a lot or little sugar or lime, however you prefer it.” 

Bryan likes the French expression so much she has it tattooed on her arm. If it’s good enough to get permanently inked, it’s good enough for a summer cocktail.