We all know it. We all love it. And we have all had some very different variations of it in our travels. I personally, have made Rum Punch according to the staple recipes of five or six different establishments on St. John. Not one of them is the same but all are similar in their exploration of tropical juices, Cruzan flavored rum and, for many, the simultaneous splash of bright red Grenadine that gives the concoction its notable pink hue. Some places add fresh nutmeg. Some a dark rum float. But all of them have a very similar outcome. A “goes down too easy” fruit rum libation that is sure to please anyone who enjoys a good easy going tropical cocktail.
The word “Punch,” according to Webster, is defined as a drink made with fruit juices, soda, spices, and sometimes liquor, typically served in small cups from a large bowl. It is thought that the word was derived from the Hindu word, pāñć, which translates into “five.” Originally, the drink was comprised of five things: Alcohol, sugar, citrus juice, water and spices. It is thought that sailors of the East India Trading Company brought the ideology of “punch” home to England from their travels to India in the 1600’s.
The vaguely defined description is first notated in historical English documents in 1632. But in 1655, chartered explorations of the Caribbean brought Jamaican rum into use in England and the modernized Rum Punch emerged. And by 1671, notations of “Punch Houses” can be found in historic documents.
During the early years of the punch revolution in England, nutmeg brought from the shores of India was an incredibly popular commodity. It has been notated that nutmeg was the most valuable substance in the entirety of the 17th century! The crews who were able to successfully deliver the precious cargo back to England around the treacherous Cape of Africa were able to sell the treasured spice for more than 60,000 times its purchase price!
The discovery and expansion of rum punch was not necessarily due to the refined palates of the husky sailors however. The ales rationed for the thirsty crews did just fine at room temperature in the cooler climates of England. But, as they neared the equator and India’s scorching temps, the ale got warm and spoiled. I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in witnessing a crew of 40 thirsty sailors stuck on board a vessel without their daily booze allotment!
In a quest to ease their detox, the sailors found a satisfying substitution on the shores of India. The punch, riddled with the popular spices, tangy citrus and booze, became the drink of choice for them. And they brought the concept of punch home to the shores of England with them. The concoction quickly rose into aristocratic circles and began being served in “punch bowls” at sophisticated parties for the elite.
It’s then likely obvious how the drink made its way to popularity in the British settlements in America and the Caribbean. I found it odd, in my research for this article, that the evolution of the original Rum Punch has absolutely NO origin in the Caribbean Islands but, instead, originated in cloudy, cold England. I guess the truth is not always what you expect to find….
Additionally, I guess the recipe I’m going to share with you today actually and unknowingly holds its origins in the original “five” ingredients…Save the water (unless you count the ice!). As I mentioned, I have made SO many different rum punch variations over the years! At Asolare, we used cranberry juice for the pink color instead of the cherry flavored Grenadine that is prevalent among the on island rum punches. At the Terrace, we did an upscaled version of the drink with higher end dark rums, fresh lime juice, pineapple juice and orange juice…Simple and delicious. At many of the other standard “grab a rum drink and put your toes in the sand” establishments, it is the standard plethora of flavored Cruzan Rums and tropical fruit juices. In the BVI, you’ll find many more variations with the traditional addition of nutmeg spice. In Grenada, the same…More dark rum, less false flavors and a hefty dose of spice. So, from venue to venue and island to island, you will discover different takes on the rum punch. All are delightful and far too easy to drink, if you enjoy a sweet rum cocktail that is.
So, I have had some practice with Rum Punch. Both with “sampling” it and with making it by the recipes of other establishments and developing my own over time. I can’t share with you the proprietary secrets of other establishments on St. John. But, I CAN share with you the recipe I developed for rum punch that we serve on Sailing Asante.
I can tell you that the majority of the long time visitors that sail with us say over and over, “It’s the best Rum Punch on island.” I can also tell you from witnessing our guests as they disembark at the end of the day, that it can be WAY too easy to indulge in. So, be careful!
First, gather your FIVE ingredients-
1 – The Alcohol
- Flavored Rum- We obviously use Cruzan on the boat. There are a dozen flavors to choose from, all of which are low in cost (on St. John) and readily available at Pine Peace Market, Dolphin, Starfish, etc., when we run out! The guava is my first pick as it packs a nice tropical flavor profile without overwhelming the drink. But, if I can’t find that, I go with Mango as a back up.
- Dark Rum- Again, we generally go with Cruzan for the Aged Rum component in our punch. The price is right and storage on the boat can be difficult when you’re trying to find a home for two cases of rum! The similarly shaped bottles of dark and flavored rum make storage easy and Cruzan is always an easy crowd pleaser (crossover drinks like Dark and Coke, Dark and Passion Fruit and Painkillers often find their way into my “at sea” repertoire). But, we do on occasion treat guests to specialty Lovango Rum in the punch. It adds a nice, almost floral note to the drink. But, you won’t likely find that one on the shelves of your local liquor store in the states. So, (unless you’ve stowed some in your carryon from your last trip) if you’re stocking up at home, go for the Cruzan Aged Rum. If you can’t find that, Bacardi Dark or Don Q Dark are decent replacements.
2 – The Sugar
- Fruit Juices- For the average rum punch, ANYTHING GOES. You’ll find mango, passion fruit, orange, pineapple, tropical blends, guava, sour sop, tamarind in many of the recipes on island! But, for this one, I use a simple blend of pineapple and passion fruit in this recipe. The passion fruit flavor is so distinctive and easy to enjoy and pineapple adds that extra sugar push and tropical vibe. I purchase these juices pre-made at the store. But if you want to pop it up a notch, and you can find fresh passion fruit, bust out your juicer and go fresh with your sugar component!
- Grenadine- Yes, yes…I do use it. But just the TINIEST amount in order to give the punch a nice color pop! You can find this artificial cherry juice abundantly in the mixer aisle of your local grocer or liquor store. If you have a jar of cherries in your fridge, you can use the juice from those instead. Or, if you want to skip it entirely, swap it out for the tiniest hint of cranberry juice for the desired color effect.
3 – The Citrus
- Fresh Lime Juice- Once again, I do cheat a little as I make mine in bulk and fresh citrus gets expensive on St. John. Not to mention the low quality/low yield of juice I might end up with from the limes in the produce section at our local grocers. I use a lime juice concentrate in these bigger batched cocktails on board as its a very small amount of lime to simply cut the sugary components of the rum and fruit juices. It balances the drink nicely and keeps it a bit more refreshing rather than a huge sugar overload! If you’re doing this at home for one or two guests (Or just for yourself!), fresh squeezed lime juice is always a better alternative. One of the reasons I’m sharing this particular recipe with you, however, is because it is super easy and tasty in large batches. So, if you’re going that route and don’t want to put the elbow grease into fresh squeezed lime juice, try to find a 100% lime concentrate without all the added chemicals for preservation. IE- It won’t be in the juice aisle. Check the refrigerator section!
4- The Spice
- Fresh Nutmeg- I’m not going to lie, prior to researching this article I didn’t use nutmeg in our punch recipe! But, moving forward and knowing this story I will. What a cool talking point…And the sweet and spicy aroma of nutmeg is only going to make things better. Now, I’m going to dissuade you from tasking the easy route on this one. Freshly grated nutmeg tastes and smells SO much better than the stuff out of a shaker! If a busy bar tender can do it with 100 Painkillers in front of him or her, you can do it too! If you’re serious about your at home bar and rum drinks are your thing, get yourself a little micro plane to make life a breeze:
- No, no, no. We aren’t actually adding water! But the ice will eventually turn into just that. So we aren’t TECHNICALLY deviating too much from the original recipe 🙂
Ok, got everything ready to go? The below recipe is designed for ONE of these cocktails. If you want to go old school and put it in a punch bowl, use a blender with measurements on the side or a large liquid measuring cup to keep your cocktail balanced with the proper ratios. I’m telling you…You really cannot screw up this particular rum punch unless you get too heavy handed on the lime or Grenadine components.
1 ounce Dark Rum
1 ounce Flavored Rum
Equal Parts Pineapple and Passion Fruit Juices
Splash of Lime Juice
A TEENY drizzle of Grenadine
For ease of making this drink for one, I build the cocktail in the glass and then add the ice. It will save you having to dirty up chakers for a cocktail that doesn’t necessarily need it. I recommend a 12 ounce cup or glass to get the portions right, but if you want a little less “punch” in your punch, go for a 16 ounce or larger so there will be more juice than rum.
Take the chalice of your choosing and add the two ounces of rum. Fill the cup half way with equal parts of the two tropical juices. Add your splash of lime (the juice of one fresh lime) and drizzle of the red stuff. Then fill the glass to the brim with ice and watch the mixing magic happen. Top your drink with fresh nutmeg, sip, enjoy and repeat!
When I do these in bulk, I take note of the size of the container that I’m using and adjust the rum portions appropriately. The juices will still need to pretty much fill your vessel, leaving room at the top for a bit of a heavier hand on the lime juice and grenadine. In an air tight container, these make for easy and delicious boat or beach drinks! You can add a bit of nutmeg into the overall drink or wow your friends when you pop out your fresh nutmeg on the sandy shoreline 🙂 Shake well in your container, pour over ice and enjoy!
When I was trying to come up with what recipe to share for this article, I was literally racking my brain for which rum punch recipe to share specifically. There are SO many. And every place is different. So, I went with what I know. A recipe I could easily make in my sleep. HA! But, I’m curious, what are some of your favorite rum punch recipes? Specifically to the venue.
Additionally, what drink do you guys want to learn next?!?
The Caribbean Cocktails at Home recipes can be found in the following links: