Rum, sugar, lime. In the Caribbean, this holy trinity splits in numerous directions, forming the foundation of cocktails that have come to define our idea of warm-weather drinking: the Daiquiri, the Mojito, the Caipirinha. Though not quite as obscure as the Canchánchara, the Ti’ Punch has always lived somewhere just outside the popular consciousness. That is, until more recently.
The official drink of the Caribbean’s French-speaking islands (notably, Martinique), the Ti’ Punch is a simple combo of grassy, funky agricole rum made from fresh-pressed sugar cane, cane sugar and a lime peel. However, as Ivy Mix notes in a recent story for PUNCH, everyone on the islands has their own riff. “How much lime meat on your disc of lime? Some cut deep into the juicy flesh, which provides a healthy dash of lime juice when the peel is expressed; others make a shallow cut, relying only on the citrus oils—no juice at all,” she writes. “Crystallized sugar or cane syrup for your sweetener? Some prefer the granular sugar in the bottom; others like it silky smooth. What about ice to chill it down? Purists will say absolutely not.” (Our blind tasting of more than 10 classic versions only supports this assertion.)
Perhaps the best way to think of the Ti’ Punch is as the Caribbean’s take on the Old-Fashioned. It’s easy to understand, then, how the drink became not a fixed recipe, but a format that can bend to each drinker’s preference—and today, that preference has gone far beyond the choice of how to cut one’s lime coin.
Consider Paul McGee’s Ti’ Punch Highball, which turns blanc agricole rum, cane sugar and a lime coin (with flesh on it!), into a base for a highball that is topped with both tonic and coconut water. It’s become a sleeper hit on PUNCH. Others have taken an “improved” approach to the drink, adding liqueurs or fortified wines to the mix. Both Shannon Tebay and Leanne Favre turn up the volume on the drink’s tropical notes by adding coconut to the mix (by way of coconut liqueur in Tebay’s Electric Feel and coconut-infused agricole rum in Favre’s Lime in Ti’ Coconut), along with additional modifiers.
Some, like bartender Vince Bright, have opted to take the drink on vacation. He goes to Mexico, swapping in blanco tequila and mezcal for the rum, finishing with pink peppercorn syrup and a Tajín rim in his Pequeño Boxing Club. Jack Schramm, meanwhile, goes someplace very, very cold (Canada?) with a hot take, literally, on the Ti’ Punch called, fittingly, Hot Ti.
Of course, like the Old-Fashioned, sometimes the beauty of the Ti’ Punch lies in just sticking to the template, which embodies the pared-back nature of the Caribbean classics—or, as bartender Austin Hartman sums it up, “It’s about the power of simplicity.”