Hold the Coke. Fresh, grassy rhum agricole from the French Caribbean blazes all on its own.
In distilling, as in most things, necessity is the mother of invention. The British had scores of Caribbean sugar factories producing molasses waste and scores more sailors desperate for something to help them forget their terrible lot in life. Through the miracle of fermentation, rum was created and both problems solved. But if you were from French Martinique (or Haiti, Guadeloupe, or St. Barts) it quickly became clear that not only were the British quite a bit better at cranking out rum, but the subsequent introduction of sugar beets made your vast fields of sugar cane significantly less valuable. The French responded by taking a page from their vigneron compatriots back home. No longer would they create rum from factory slag. Instead, they skipped the sugar-making altogether and juiced their cane expressly to create a superior rum that came to be called rhum agricole, in a nod to their connection to the fields. Where normal rum trod the plank between sweet and harsh, this version went for freshness and lightness. And if it was a bit more pricey…well, stop drinking so much of it, you uncultured beast. As a commodity it never took off -- traditional rum and its many creepy variations (ahoy, Captain Morgan) outsell it 1,000:1 -- but as a stand-alone drink it’s got a ton to recommend it. For starters it’s the one type of rum that when young can actually be drunk neat. It also makes a mean cocktail -- the ti’ (for “petit”) punch is the standard-bearer -- because its fresh, almost grassy notes shine through most mixers. If you’re looking for more heft, many suppliers offer a premium aged version that’s great, but with each year in the barrel it starts to taste ever more like its molasses-based brethren. THE BOTTLES Karukera Rhum Blanc ($70) The entry-level rhum from the only line now available in B.C. is “floral” and “fruity.” Not normal rum descriptors, but they do herald a classic (if pricey) intro to agricole Karukera Réserve Spéciale ($120) Now we’re getting really expensive, but the Spéciale evokes nothing so much as a perfectly balanced glass of bananas Foster. How can you put a price on that?
Ti’ Punch From Jason Browne, Calabash Bistro, 428 Carrall St. 2 oz rhum agricole 1 oz cane sugar syrup 3/4 fresh lime, cut into wedges cubed ice Muddle the lime in a short-sided glass. Add remaining ingredients and churn together. Garnish with a wedge of lime