I was almost knocked out in Martinique. Not in a brawl but by the heady power of the national drink, ti' punch. A deceptively simple mixture of cane syrup, rhum and lime, ti'punch is not so much a cocktail as a way of life. There was no part of the island, no time of day, where I didn't see the telltale bottle of rhum lined up with syrup, lime and an empty glass. This is a drink so singular that locals prepare their own versions at bars and restaurants. I watched countless mixers until I dared try a version whipped up by Steve, Uncommon Caribbean's rhum connoisseur. The pure strength of the rhum burned my throat and threw me off balance. They don't say, "chacun pre'pare sa propre mort" or "each prepares their own death" while making ti'punch for nothing.
I discovered that the type of rhum used depends on your location on the island, with different areas pledging loyalty to the local distillery. Martinque rhum (that's not a typo that's the elegant French spelling) isn't distilled from molasses like other rums, but from sugar cane juice, for a more distinct flavor and aroma. It also depends on if you use rhum blanc or vieux, with blanc traditionally downed early in the day and vieux in the evening. Of course, ice is frowned upon, least it water down the potency. I never learned to mix my own ti'punch or even to drink an entire glass while I was in Martinique but I watched lots of mixing. I appreciate the devotion and skill that goes into its creation and I think the drink reflects Martinique's refined Caribbean sensibilities. The video below shows a ti'punch concoction shaken up and served while I visited Ilet Oscar, off the coast of Martinique.