’Ti Punch

@Splificator recently wrote a brief on the ’Ti Punch for the Beast, which subsequently raised questions (from Europeans, mainly) on Facebook about lime juice—or rather, lack thereof—in the form outlined in the article.

As I was “trained” by Ed Hamilton, there’s little-to-no juice in the drink—maybe a few drops slip in from the lime disc—but that it’s really about the oils. My understanding was that Martinique natives don’t usually add ice, taking it undiluted a bit like the Jamaicans take their Wray & Nephew (egad), and generally serve the ’Ti Punch unassembled so that the drinker can customize theirs as they see fit.

But I’ve never been to Martinique.

One Dirk Becker claimed to be just back from Martinique and stated, “I’ve just been to Martinique and the recipe is simple. You take as much rum as you like, fine cane sugar and the skin of the lime, cut off a little more generously. In any case no ice!”

Fine cane sugar!? Martinique sugar cane syrup has always defined the drink for me as much as rhum.

I’m curious whether there’s a solid documentation on the emergence and evolution of this drink? (If so, I would expect it to be French.)

I recently conducted a blind tasting of Ti’ Punch at Punch, with three bartenders who had all been to Martinique. I was told that people in Martinque often used plain sugar as a sweetener.

I wonder if the “plain sugar” is simple economics? This is part of why I’d like to hear more about how the drink emerged and evolved over time. It used to seem genuinely distinctive from the other rum-gum-lime traditions, but perhaps it’s more like the Sazerac-to-the-Old-Fashioned?

Here’s that blind tasting: https://punchdrink.com/articles/ultimate-best-ti-punch-cocktail-recipe/

I would guess the use of sugar in Martinique is a combination of economics and convenience.

The earliest mention I have of the 'Ti Punch is from Lafcadio Hearn’s 1890 Two Years in the French West Indies, where he writes about the “ti ponch” as “rum and water, sweetened with plenty of sugar or sugar syrup.”

So no lime or ice, but either sugar or syrup.

On the other hand, an article called “Notes sur la Martinique” in a 1903 issue of the French magazine La réforme sociale (I don’t know the month) defines the drink as a “breuvage fait de rhum, de sirop, de citron et de glace, brassés avec une tige de lélé”–“a beverage made of rhum, syrup, lemon and ice, brewed together with a lélé-stem.”

So ice and “lemon” (which must be the lime, although how it is used is a mystery), plus the swizzle, but only syrup.

Then there’s Dr André Nègre, author of the standard work, Antilles et Guyane a travers leur cuisine (The Antilles and Guyana Through Their Cuisine), which was published in the 1960s (I have the 1973 5th edition). he has always been my guide in understanding the drink.

Nègre divides the Punches into “Punch Vieux” (“Old Punch”) and “Punch Blanc” (“White Punch”). For him, it’s the Old Punch that is the true 'Ti Punch. He suggests 1/4 cane syrup and 3/4 old rhum, stirred with ice cubes. It is, however, “le blanc” that is most popular in the Antilles, made with “un morceau de peau de citron” (“a scrap of lime-skin”), or–even better–a vigorous grating of the peel. To him, this is “indispensable,” which I do not have to translate. He does add that some like to also squeeze “quelques gouttes” (“some drops”) of the juice, but to him that’s a matter of taste. For the rest, it’s the same 1/4 syrup to 3/4 rhum, stirred with ice cubes.

In Martinique, I’ll add, one young, hip bartender refused to put ice in my 'Ti Punch. It was over 90 degrees, but whatever. I saw plenty drinking it with ice and few without.

The thing where you get the fixins and prepare your own was also common. “Chacun prépare sa propre mort,” as the invariable accompanying saying goes: “Each prepares his own death.”

Nowhere did I see anyone squeeze half a lime in there. To me, the 'Ti Punch–le blanc–is closer to the Old-Fashioned than the Daiquiri, with the lime-peel serving as the bitters.

I will be having these tonight. With ice, because drink how ya like.


Wow! Thank you so much for all the info!

I’m not even gonna wait until tonight. I’m making one right now! (avec un morceau de peau, and syrup… I am out of vieux, but have plenty of blanc)