The Planter’s Punch is completely different from any of the other recipes you’ll find on these pages. While it certainly sounds like a specific drink it is, in reality, more of a whole group of drinks founded on a single formula. Or should I say founded on a folk rhyme? But let’s back up a bit first. The Planter’s Punch comes from Jamaica with a “planter” meaning a plantation owner and “punch” being a largely British (but originally Sanskrit) word for a diluted mixed drink often comprised of lemon juice, alcohol (probably arrack), sugar and tea – in other words an ancient cocktail prototype. But we’ll get to those another time. The Planter’s Punch is a very old rum version of the punch that is impossible to put a date on but probably goes back to the 18th century.
The rhyme that tells us how to assemble the Planter’s Punch goes like this: One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak. This is generally taken to mean ounces (or parts if upscaling) of lime juice, sugar syrup, rum and water (or perhaps juice or even ice) respectively. The problem that has troubled cocktailiens over the years is that this formula contains twice as much sweet as sour and leads to an unbalanced, overly sweet drink and as a result some liberties have been taken with the rhyme. Sometimes the first two items are transposed but that causes the rhyme to collapse – and there are many other unsatisfactory versions around as well. My theory is that the original version was bang-on but just misunderstood. I think what was meant was; one glug of lime juice, two spoons of sugar, three glugs of rum and four glugs of water. I mean seriously folks do we really think rural Jamaicans of old were dicking around with jiggers and simple syrup? We may as well believe they had waxed mustaches and artisanal leather aprons. The spoons would been roughly tablespoon size – giving us about an ounce of sugar – and if we takes the glugs as an ounce each, hey presto, a perfectly balanced drink. So, converted back to ounces, we’re at a 1:1:3:4 formula. Now, as you have no doubt noticed, that’s a lot of rum*. But Jamaicans know their rum so I’m not going to argue. With the formula down we can make a super simple literal version of “one ounce of fresh lime juice, one ounce of 1:1 sugar syrup, three ounces of Jamaican rum (such as Myers’s) and four ounces of soda water, all mixed in an iced Collins glass”. And pretty damn decent that is too. But where Planter’s Punch starts to get more interesting is when we play around within the given formula. Grenadine as some or all of the sweet is common, as is orange or pineapple juice for the weak. The classic Tiki technicians, Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic played around with this formula aplenty and as well as their various Planter’s Punch versions a considerable number of their other Tiki drinks have a striking similarity to it too. Unfortunately Dark Age (c.1970-2000) bartenders messed with the formula too and as a result there are plenty of pretty dire Planter’s Punch recipes kicking around – mostly heavy on the juice and (fake) grenadine but pretty light on the rum. We, of course, will be sticking to the original formula. For the sour we could go for lemon or grapefruit juice but lime would be the classic choice. The sweet options are endless but grenadine, falernum, ginger syrup, cinnamon syrup, passion fruit syrup, pineapple syrup or honey mix are all excellent contenders. The rum, ah, the rum. Well look, it just has to be Jamaican as we’re pretty spoiled for choice with the likes of Wray & Nephew Overproof, Myers’s, Appleton and plenty of others. The weak we should at least move from plain to sparkling water but as long as we’re careful we can use some of the more neutral (in sweet/sour terms) fruit juices such as orange or pineapple or even go for some coconut water or cold tea. That creates an almost infinite number of variations, so knock yourselves out. And remember there is no “correct” or “original” version of the Planter’s Punch so you have carte blanche to get creative here. I’ll hit you up with a powerful but tasty example to get you started.
Proof Planter’s Punch.
1oz/30ml fresh lime juice
0.5oz/15ml home-made grenadine.
0.5oz/15ml ginger syrup.
1oz /30ml Coruba NPU (or another “funky”) gold Jamaican rum.
1oz/30ml Wray & Nephew Overproof white Jamaican rum.
1oz/30ml Myers’s dark Jamaican rum.
2oz/60ml coconut water (unsweetened, unflavoured).
2oz/60ml soda water.
Stir with plenty of ice in a large Collins glass or Tiki mug.
Toast the poor souls who toiled in the sugar fields for little or no reward to give the world the sugar and rum it so desperately demanded. As for the slave owning planters themselves? Fuck ’em.
*Two ounces of rum would work perfectly well.