Haitian Rum Punches

These two drinks come from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry‘s beautiful new tome, Potions of the Caribbean, a book that takes drink history, particularly that of tropical drinks, to new heights. I highly recommend you grab yourself a copy if that is a history in which you are at all interested.

These are ostensibly two versions of the same drink from the Grand Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (not such a tourist hotbed these days, I imagine), and provide a fantastic study in contrasts. The recipes’ sources are not in question. The “original” version, called Oloffson’s Rum Punch, comes from Trader Vic’s 1947 Bartender’s Guide. The second, Cesar’s Rum Punch (named after Joseph Cesar, the bartender who originated the drink), appeared in 1973 when the hotel’s owner gave forth the “real” recipe to counter Vic’s “fake” one. Berry suggests neither may be wholly accurate for various reasons (see the book for the details), and he makes a few minor tweaks of his own anyway.

Oloffson’s Rum Punch

2 1/2 oz. Rhum Barbancourt*

1/2 oz. Meyer’s dark rum (float)

1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur

1 1/2 oz. orange juice

3/4 oz. lime juice

1 rounded teaspoon white sugar

I used simple syrup in place of the sugar, because, well, it’s just easier. If you insist on the sugar, dissolve it in the lime juice first; sugar won’t dissolve much once the alcohol is in there. Combine all the ingredients, except the Meyer’s, in a shaker. Shake with ice and strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Float the Meyer’s (pour it slowly over the back of a spoon).

Oloffsons

We garnished with the ubiquitous cherry, although for some reason I took the picture first. You can imagine it sitting there, though, right? Good.

With the float, we drank this one with straws. It was more sour than sweet, but there was enough sweetness that it seemed like the drink was trying to be something it wasn’t. The combination of lime and orange juice made the dominant flavor that of not-very-ripe orange juice, and this flavor, as appealing as it sounds, didn’t mix all that well with the distinctive flavor of the Rhum Barbancourt. Really, it just didn’t work – the flavors didn’t come together, but tended to fight each other. Three livers.

Cesar’s Rum Punch

2 ounces Rhum Barbancourt

2 ounces lime juice

1 ounce grenadine

3 dashes Angostura bitters

1 tsp. sugar (once again, I used simple syrup)

Shake everything in a shaker with ice and strain into a tall glass about 3/4 full of crushed ice.

CesarsThe absence of orange juice makes all the difference here, I think. The heavy dose of lime juice provides a good sour base that is perfectly tempered by the sweetness from the grenadine, and the rum is much more subsumed within the other ingredients; in the earlier version, it seems to hold itself at arm’s length. This one is a remarkable cocktail, expertly balanced in every way. Five livers. It’s honestly one of the best tropical drinks I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot.

* Rhum Barbancourt is a Haitian rum (utilizing the French spelling, “rhum”) with a unique flavor. While it is available in both dark and white formulations, you want the dark unless the white is specifically called for. There are also four-, eight-, and fifteen-year old formulations. Guess which one’s better? But the eight-year will do you just fine.

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