Monday, February 13, 2012

The Perfect Rum Punch

Rum punch in the Caribbean is a given. Yet ... so many varieties!! The best that we have found so far, however, is what Antiguans call an ”old fashioned rum punch”. Trust me when I say we are not talking about the utterly bland and overly sweet pre-made mix concoction they throw at you aboard cruise ships or at schlocky tiki-themed places. I am talking about true, authentic rum punch!
Rum is a staple down here in the Caribbean; most islands have their own distillery, harking back to the days when sugar cane was king, and rum was made in simple pot stills on individual estates. Nowadays, in Antigua there is Cavalier Rum, and English Harbour Rum, both made by Antigua Distillery Limited. Antiguan rum is known for its lightness and rather elegant flavor, possibly due to the more arid climate here which is said to enhance the aging process. There is a lot of history and many more aspects to rum than you ever dreamed!! (For a full treatise on Caribbean rum and its many variations, check out the Ministry of Rum:! It's a great website!)
So, after sampling "old fashioned" rum punches at several different establishments, we had to ask...what is the Antiguan secret? Turns out it's no secret at all, and folks here were quick to give us the recipe. Supposedly it's said to be from the 1700s, and basically it's all about proportions:
  • One of Sour (lime juice)
  • Two of Sweet (simple syrup -- half water + half sugar, boiled & cooled)
  • Three of Strong (A fine aged Caribbean rum)
  • Four of Weak (Fresh spring water or a glassful of ice)
Then, while doing some research on different variations on a theme (looking for a sampling of rum punch recipes across the islands) I came across a poem that was printed in the NY Times in 1908, which verifies the above "recipe"! It describes the construction of a properly made “Planter’s Punch” from Jamaica, and is one of the more well-known original recipes of a good rum punch:
 (from the 1908 New York Times)

          This recipe I give to thee,
          Dear brother in the heat.

          Take two of sour (lime let it be)

          To one and a half of sweet,
          Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
          And add four parts of weak.
          Then mix and drink.  I do no wrong —

          I know whereof I speak.

While this refers to Jamaican rum, the recipe is consistent as we heard it. Be sure to find a good aged rum, like the Antiguan-made English Harbor Rum, (rumored to be one of the finest blends of dark and light rum distilled in the Caribbean today) for a deeper rum flavor. Ron likes a light or white rum, and, definitely avoid any flavored version. Our version is as follows: 
  •  1 oz. simple syrup or crushed cane sugar (sweet)
  •  2 oz. FRESH squeezed lime juice (sour)
  •  3 oz. aged or white Rum (strong)
  •   4 oz. water or a glass full of ice (weak)
  •  Add Angostura Bitters & Grenadine for color and flavor.
Most important: top it off by dusting the drink with freshly grated nutmeg on top. Not only is this for taste, but some say it adds a bit of “punch” to the punch. But it's a lovely local touch!

We always use freshly-squeezed lime juice; happily, local lemons and limes are readily available in any of the many tiny superettes to the large public market in St. John’s. (We also make a light and frothy lemonade by mixing the freshly squeezed juice, and a bit of sugar with plain seltzer -- utterly delicious!) As far as the rum  punch goes, some folks here also mix in a dash of cranberry juice with the lemon juice to tweak the tartness a bit, and you can also add water as well, to weaken the punch, so to speak! Try your own version and pretend you’re in the Caribbean. Before long, you'll know how it goes: “A pirate walks into a bar…"

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