I did not expect the lauded head of a 269-year-old distillery to suggest I sip her spirits any way but neat. But if Joy Spence tells you to top your rum with some Ting, you do it.
In 1997, Spence became the master blender of her native Jamaica’s Appleton Estate, an operation that traces its rum-making lineage back to 1749. It’s a big job that demands her input on an extended line of products bearing the Appleton name, as well as some that do not. The most famous of these outliers: J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum, the most-consumed brand in the Caribbean country, and one of two ingredients in Jamaica’s best-loved cocktail.
A blend of unaged products off both column and pot stills—the latter method provides the punch of pungent, overripe fruit endemic to GI-protected “Jamaica rum”—Wray & Nephew Overproof is a complex spirit. But at 126 proof it can’t help but come on strong, which is why Spence suggests you doctor it, preferably with a mixer that’s just as Jamaican as its kill-devil counterpart.
Introduced in 1976 by Desnoes & Geddes, the brewers of Red Stripe, Ting is a soft drink made from a concentrate of Caribbean grapefruit, which is more bitter and less sugary than varietals like the Ruby Red. It quickly proved a mystical match for market-dominant Overproof, which is so entrenched in the Jamaican day-to-day that it’s developed cure-all utility—it’s used to purify burial sites, as a tool in spiritual rites and as a killer cold remedy.
Whether you call it Wray & Ting, Rum & Ting or Ting With a Sting, this iconic Kingston duo is the way many Jamaicans take their rum. “It’s the greatest highball in the world,” says Martin Cate, a rum expert and the owner of San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove. “[And] it’s not a craft cocktail thing—most people drink at a rum shop.”
Numbering in the thousands across the country, these colorfully appointed rum shops, often branded with the logos of the closest major rum producer, operate differently than the conventional bar. Rum is commonly ordered and sold by the bottle, usually 200 milliliter flasks, alongside a DIY toolkit: cups, ice, fresh limes and a non-alcoholic mixer.
While people were cutting their Wray with Ting well before the early 2000s, a series of business moves during this period permanently established “Wray & Ting” as a drink Jamaicans order by name. Always popular locally, Ting’s profile and distribution was rocket-boosted by Pepsi’s acquisition of the brand in 1999. Then, in 2002, Wray & Nephew stepped up as the corporate backer of the National Premier League, the top men’s soccer tier in Jamaica. This splashy deal, according to Spence, gave Wray the opportunity to solidify its appeal—so long as they figured out how to pour it at games without sousing everyone in the stands. “We couldn’t serve rum at 63 percent at a football match,” says Spence, “so we needed something that was lower alcohol and refreshing.”
Today Wray & Ting is so ubiquitous that it’s often the first drink tourists encounter in a rum shop. Spence observes that visitors from the States leave Jamaica “quite fascinated” with the unexpected flavor profile of the combination: crisp and citrusy with a underlying funk that defies muddying. Visitors stuff their suitcases with Wray, and “then they go back to America to try and find Ting,” she says.
Getting your hands on Ting here is not always easy, but it really helps if you’re based in an area with a significant Caribbean population. “In Brooklyn, it’s always been a thing,” says Shane Feirstein, an owner of the reggae bar and dance club Lover’s Rock, in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood. “That’s just a party: A bottle of Wray and a couple of Tings, and you’re good to go.”
Slightly more formal than a humble rum shop, Feirstein lists the cocktail—an ounce and a half of Wray & Nephew Overproof in a 12-ounce Collins glass over ice, filled with Ting and garnished with a wedge of lime—in the “House Drinks” section of his menu for $8. It’s been well-received, both by the bar’s Caribbean and West Indian patrons as well as uninitiated partiers who have never heard of either ingredient. “It’s beyond approachable,” adds Feirstein, who sees the cocktail as an effective way to “welcome people to Jamaican rum.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Shannon Mustipher, beverage manager for Glady’s, a Caribbean restaurant in Crown Heights that stocks hundreds of cane spirits behind its bar. While Mustipher herself enjoys sipping overproof rum straight, she knows she’s in the minority. “I think the best way to understand the spirit is to drink it the way it’s traditionally consumed… and these rums are not consumed alone,” says the rum educator, who gets occasional calls for a Wray & Ting.
“It’s exactly what you want,” says Austin Hartman, owner of the brand-new Paradise Lounge in Ridgewood, Queens, of the drink. Hartman offers a Wray & Ting as part of his menu’s “Island Traditional” section, to great success: He estimates that he ran through 10 cases of Ting in his first full week of business alone. In a nod to the drink’s traditional serve, he also offers a full “rum shop experience,” complete with a 200 milliliter bottle of Wray & Nephew, a chilled bottle of Ting, and the glasses, fruit and ice required to make the drink yourself.
“It’s like a beautiful marriage,” he says—one you no longer have to book a plane ticket to celebrate.