Words by Joe Rogers
There are some cocktails that are so classic, so deeply canonical, that they are inextricably associated with their base spirit. Gin has the Martini, Tequila the Margarita, and agricole has the Ti Punch. The ‘little punch’ is likely as old as Martinique rum itself. It doesn’t require technological innovations like the Boston shaker, or the ice machine, and it’s easy to turn out for a crowd. Like many great drinks, the genius of the Ti Punch is its simplicity.
Martinique’s national drink is a member of the rum, lime and sugar family of cocktails that evolved across the Caribbean and then spread to the rest of the world. While some variations on this formula up the citrus juice or add liqueurs and other flavourings, the Ti Punch pairs it right back to the barest essentials: a deep cut disc of lime zest, a pour of cane syrup and a healthy measure of agricole. You can add ice if you like, however, there is something brilliantly unadorned and bracing about the Ti Punch when served without it.
In bars on Martinique, it’s usual to offer limes, cane syrup and rum and let the customer dial up or cut down each element as they desire. The recipe given here is kind of a benchmark, feel free to customise it to your tastes. Moderation is strongly advised on the rum, though – there’s a reason the Martiniquais say of this tradition ‘chacun prépare sa propre mort,’ roughly ‘each prepares their own death’
Start with any rum from Martinique. Your trad Ti Punch will generally-speaking be made with something un-aged and full of that fresh sugarcane grassiness. However, you can absolutely experiment with aged styles as well. With a rhum vieux Ti Punch you may just be able to squint and see a common relative of both the Daiquiri and the Old Fashioned.
Hold your lime on a cutting board with the stalk end facing upward and, using a very sharp paring knife, slice a ‘cheek’ – or round slice – off one side. It’s up to you whether your slice contains more of the fruity flesh or just the peel.
The key flavour you want is the oils from the skin, but you can choose if you want more acidity in the mix and cut a larger slice accordingly. Combine roughly half a tablespoon of sugar syrup, lime and 50 ml rum in a small rocks glass and give it a swirl using your genuine swizzle stick taken from a dried branch of the quararibea turbinata, or ‘swizzle stick tree.’ This is what they use in Martinique, but if you don’t have one lying around a spoon will do. Serve with more of everything, sit back and enjoy.