Ti’ Punch and Two Rums

February 18, 2012

I was going to post about this in a day or two when I’d done some more research, but I’m literally finishing off a taste comparison as I type, and, 4 ounces of very heavy liquor in, I feel compelled to record my findings while the memories are still fresh.

A couple of months ago, shortly before my trip to New Zealand, I was very low on stocks for many basic spirits, but had plenty of Rhum Agricole and was really getting into a drink called the Ti’ Punch. I’ve just tried it again and it’s a winner.

Ti’  is pronounced like ‘tea’ but doesn’t have any in it. Neither is it a boozed up fruity drink (punch). The Ti’ is creole-speak for ‘petit’, but it actually packs quite  a wallop. But the ‘punch’ might not mean a blow to the head either. There’s a tradition in parts of Europe that when you’re having a big meal, you have a little (but strong) drink between courses, to ‘punch’ a hole through and open up some space for more food (or something). Man those French take their eating seriously. (I can’t actually find my source for this, so maybe it does just mean a little smack to the head – the forerunner to the ‘shot’ – but in my blog, the best story is the one I’m running with, ‘truth’ be damned).

The Ti’ Punch is a very simple mix of just three ingredients – rum, lime and sugar (astute readers might note that these are the same ingredients as in the original Daiquiri – it’s a great mix), but the rum of choice is not your usual stuff, but a variation known as Rhum Agricole (‘rhum’ is French rum, and ‘ron’ is Spanish).

Agricole differs from most rum in that rather than being distilled from molasses, it is made from straight cane juice. The story goes that when Europe got into sugar from sugar-beets the previously sky-high cane sugar prices plummeted. Molasses is a by-product of the sugar refining process. Rum was always a sideline to the main product. But now, in the French Carribean, planters found it more profitable to turn more of their product straight into rum, and it was less wasteful to do this by using the sugarcane juice itself. Thus Rhum Agricole was born (this story doesn’t quite explain why this didn’t happen in non-French parts of the Carribbean). It is a product mostly made on a few formerly French islands, but particularly on Martinique (which has its own AOC Appellation).

Those of us living in Taiwan are surprisingly blessed to have access to one of the most lauded of all Rhum Agricoles – Neisson Rhum Blanc. You can get this at Carrefour (although my local is out of stock at the moment). We’re even luckier that we get the 55% bottling rather than the 50% Americans get. Rums are meant to be nice and high in their alcohol content. Now this is a rum that (love it or hate it) will blow your socks off. When I unstoppered this and took a whiff I was so overpowered that I thought it might have gone off or something. The fruity ‘vegetal’ smells are so strong that my wife could smell this downstairs as I was mixing it tonight. The taste is similarly powerful. It makes me think of raw, green, grassy sugarcane been toiled over by slaves in the hot sun (no, really, it does). Factor in this strong flavour and the high alcohol content, and you’d have to be made of some pretty strong metal to drink this stuff straight. Funny thing is, add just a little lime and sugar and the thing becomes marvellously drinkable.

On the other end of the scale to the Neissons is another rum you can get at Carrefour. It’s called Ron Matusalem Platino and is not an Agricole (but why not try it in a Ti’ Punch anyway). It’s a Cuban style rum (‘The Spirit of Cuba’, in fact) now made in the Dominican Republic. (Matusalem was the biggest rum producer in Cuba. Since they fled the revolution, their plant has been used to produce Ron Santiago).  In contrast to the aggressive taste of the Neissons, Matusalem has been very successful in its goal of being a very smooth, easy-drinking rum. The thinking here is probably that smooth vodkas whose taste can be completely lost in a cocktail are very popular, so why not do the same thing with rum? In fact, critics of this rum usually say that its taste is too easily lost in a drink. Personally, I quite like it. I taste sweet chocolate and vanilla. It is smooth, but not tasteless. Anyway, Cuban rums are supposed to be smooth, apparently.

The conclusion of this little comparison is that in Taiwan, with a trip to one supermarket, you can actually get two very good rums from quite different ends of the taste spectrum (and for only about 1000NT for the both of them). If you like white rum at all, you’re almost certain to like at least one of these.

Now for these two to go head-to-head in Ti’ Punch:

Ti’ Punch

2 oz white Rum Agricole

1 tsp of sugar (or sugarcane syrup if you can get it)

1/2 oz of lime juice

3 ice cubes

In an old-fashioned glass dissolve sugar in lime juice by stirring well. Add rum and ice. Stir lightly. Sip (or traditionally, but less pleasantly, scull).  Smile.

Now I need to stress that these measures are very variable. This is how I made it tonight and it was great for me, with my limes. But limes differ, as does personal taste and I’ve made much poorer versions of this drink on recommendations varying from the juice of a whole lime to a squeeze from a slice off the side, or from a dash of sugarcane syrup to a tablespoon (sugarcane is traditional, but I can’t find it in Taiwan, and find that powdered sugar, stirred well to dissolve in the lime juice before adding booze or ice, works well). In fact, it seems that traditionally this drink is served by placing the ingredients in front of the customer and allowing her to mix to her own taste.

So how did the rums compare? Well the results were not unexpected. The Matusalem was a very nice drink. Better than expected really. I have to try this in a Daiquiri (and a Mojito when I get some mint); I’m starting to like it more. But the Neissons was the hands-down winner. Wow, the flavours are superb and so nicely accented with the little bit of lime and sugar. I could drink five or six of these in a row except for the fact that after the third or fourth I’d probably be unable to get down the stairs to the kitchen anymore.

Note on the picture: This photo isn’t tonight’s mix. I tried this last week in these cute little over-sized shot glasses I’d just bought, with the lime wedge thrown in. I like it better in a rocks glass sans lime shell.

Note on limes: Yes, you can get these in Taiwan, but only just. The Lime Shop (that’s its name) is on Jinhua Street, Taipei. They don’t look like limes as we know them, but they’re the real deal, and they work great. The Ti’ Punch will work with concentrate (or better seedless Taiwan lemons mixed 50-50 with concentrate) but much better with real fresh juice.


21 Responses to “Ti’ Punch and Two Rums”

  1. […] Ti’ Punch and Two Rums (theboolion.wordpress.com) 43.794180 7.613010 Share this:FacebookStampaEmailTwitterDiggLinkedInMoreStumbleUponRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Categories: distillati, rhum Etichette: Berlino, distilleria bologne, Francia, guadalupa, Hectare, i rum dei calciatori, i rum delle star, i rum piu starni del mondo, Italia, Italy, Lombardy, mikael silvestre, r st barth rhum, rhum chic, rhum cool, rhum vieux, saint barthelemy, Zucchero Fornaciari Commenti (0) Trackback (0) Lascia un commento Trackback […]

  2. […] the taste after straight sipping – an acquired taste very similar to my experience with Neisson’s Rhum Agricole which I had actually thought spoiled on first whiff from the bottle. (I have since learnt a term […]

  3. […] Rum’, but the taste is quite different. Much like Rhum Agricole (which I discussed in an earlier post), Cachaça is made from cane sugar juice rather than from the molasses used to make […]

  4. […] lime (and the sugar to balance it) are magical companions. I already blogged about how I loved the Ti’ Punch which is this combo with Rhum Agricole instead of normal rum, and the Caipirinha which is the same […]

  5. […] a few things you won’t find elsewhere. I’ve blogged before about two excellent rums: Neissons Rhum Agricole, and Matusalem Platino Cuban-style rum. The Neissons is great stuff if you have slightly daring tastes and the Matusalem is just […]

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