The Buyer
Marina Ray on St Kitts in search for the perfect Rum Punch 

Marina Ray on St Kitts in search for the perfect Rum Punch 

A basic rum punch recipe involves: one part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong and four parts weak, but how else can we pimp this Caribbean cocktail and make it stand out from the next bar? To find out, Marina Ray travelled to St Kitts & Nevis to take a two-day Kittian RumMaster course, then sampled a wide range of differing rum punches from bars by the road, on the beach, in the bush and in the swankiest of hotels. Rum punch is served everywhere here, 24/7, which does mean… rum punch for breakfast.

Marina Ray
19th May 2023by Marina Ray
posted in Tasting: Spirits,

“I worked hard for this article and tried rum punch in every bar I went to – and on a bar crawl along ‘The Strip’ this is no mean feat,” writes Ray about trying to find the perfect rum punch.

‘Caribbean time’ is similar to Spanish ‘mañana’, but without the same sense of urgency. Unsurprisingly, rum punch seems to be a staple of the Saint Kittitian diet and though I justified my frequent cocktails as research for this piece, I was never made to feel that it wasn’t rum punch hour – even at breakfast. Alfie’s Bar at the Old Road Rum distillery is open from 9am to 5pm and “really gets going” around 10am.

Alfie’s Bar, 10am

The capital of St Kitts, Basseterre, used to be called Sugar City, but in 2005 the government closed the St Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Corporation, the sugar cane fields giving way to tourism and housing. Easy-going rum laws allow anyone to import rum to flavour, age and blend themselves, and a magnificent rum tourism industry is burgeoning. Old Road Rum started making rum in 1684 but fell into disuse and was abandoned to the rainforest.

Making spice rum punch at the Spice Mill

They now offer tours around the recently rediscovered ruins and hold Rum Masters courses; Spice Mill offers a Kittian RumMaster course where you can make your own spiced rum, using high proof hibiscus infused rum, sugar syrup, vanilla, orange, ginger, clove, cinnamon and black pepper extracts. And although not a ‘fly and flop’ island, being volcanic and covered in rain forest not limestone and flat like Barbados or Anguilla, St Kitts and Nevis have some beautiful beaches and equisite hotels.

Only three hours’ flight from Miami, the tourists on St Kitts are mainly Americans and the first forays into large scale tourism, such as the Marriott, cater for them, following the island-within-an-island all-inclusive resort so often seen on St Lucia and Barbados. Mostly, though, St Kitts’s tourism is small scale and integrated well into the fabric of the island.

There is very little feeling of ‘them and us’ and all the lovely restaurants and bars happily accommodate locals and visitors, even the more traditional ‘shack’ restaurant, serving Goat Water, Cook Up, Ground Provisions, Carib – the local beer, brewed on the island – and Stag lager, whose catch phrase is ‘Man’s Beer’.

And rum punch.

Everywhere rum punch.

Rum punch and goat water at Cooper’s

On the scenic railway (the last in railway in the Caribbean), rum punch is served on arrival, at 8.30 in the morning. One day, in the Four Seasons, I asked for rum punch with my breakfast and was brought it without question or a single raised eyebrow.

At local roadside restaurants I drank it alongside lunches of Goat Water and Ground Provisions. All the beach-front bars have their own recipe, as ubiquitous as chips in the UK. I worked hard for this article and tried rum punch in every bar I went to – and on a bar crawl along ‘The Strip’ this is no mean feat.

‘Killer Bee’ rum punch, Sunshine’s

Sunshine’s, on Nevis, has the famous ‘Killer Bee’.

By then we were old hands and didn’t feel the need to drink more than one, but the ‘drinks included’ booze-cruise ride to Basseterre from Sunshine’s was a rather revolting display of sunburned tourist dad dancing – Richmond sausages on tour – though paddling through the surf to get onto the beautiful catamaran that came up onto the beach at Sunshine’s was a seriously glamourous thing to do.

The best rum punch recipes

So, from my exhaustive research, here are the best rum punch recipes I came across. Like Caribbean time, the quantities were rather vague, so don’t be afraid to do away with the jigger and err on the generous side.

Planters Punch

Originally enjoyed by the planters who ran sugar plantations throughout the Caribbean:

  • 50ml dark rum
  • 25ml white rum
  • 50ml lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons caster sugar
  • dash of orange bitters (or 50ml orange juice)
  • dash of Angostura bitters,
  • soda water to top up. Garnished with cocktail cherries, slices of lemon, lime and orange, and chunks of pineapple.

Mount Gay recipe

All punches, generally speaking, follow the Mount Gay recipe:

  • One of sour
  • two of sweet
  • three of strong
  • four of weak

Here the sour can be lime, lemon or even passion fruit juice, the sweet can be fruit juice or sugar syrup, the strong is obviously rum and the weak is lemonade, Ting (the Caribbean grapefruit fizzy drink) or sparkling water.

There is no point using only white rum such as Bacardi. Dark rum has the rich demerara flavours that give rum punches their character, and often a recipe uses three or four different rums.

Rum punch served with Johnnie cakes and pickled turmeric, Liamuiga National Farms

Liamuiga Farm recipe

The difference in this recipe is the home-made syrup that is used for the ‘two of sweet’. A game-changer.

Boil together for two hours star anise, lemon grass, ginger, basil, cloves, thyme, orange peel, cinnamon stick and pineapple peelings. Leave overnight before straining, adding to sugar syrup and boiling again for 15 minutes.
The syrup will keep for ‘a few weeks’ and can be added to orange or pineapple juice and a mixture of four different rums.

Montpelier Plantation rum punch with pineapple juice and lime

On Nevis, the Montpelier Plantation’s Rum Punch had a garnish of cloves.

Four Seasons Rum Punch, served with breakfast

The Four Seasons Rum Punch has tamarind in it.

St Kitts Rum Punch

Whatever measurement you’re using, these are the ratios.

  • 3 overproof dark rum
  • 2 white rum
  • 1 overproof white rum
  • 1 orange curacao
  • 1 passion fruit syrup
  • 1/2 Falernum syrup
  • 1 1/2 fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 mango puree
  • 4 guava juice
  • 4 apple juice
  • angostura bitters to taste, freshly grated nutmeg to serve

Orlando’s Rum Punch, Sunset Reef Hotel

Orlando’s Rum Punch

  • Two thirds ‘sweet and sour’: equal quantities of passion fruit, orange, pineapple strawberry lime and banana juice/pulp
  • One third Kingston Dark Rum.
  • Shake over ice

If making rum punch for a party, freeze water in tupperware to get really big blocks of ice.
Rum punch is the perfect party drink and will turn any occasion into a celebration: it is sunshine in a glass.

St Kitts’s tourism is mostly small scale and integrated well into the fabric of the island.