Considered a classic Tiki cocktail, Planter’s Punch is a strange bird for two reasons.
First, it’s more of a class of drink rather than a set recipe. Secondly, the original recipes are in verse. If invented today, perhaps the instructions would be set to rap.
However, poetry recipes were in vogue when the Planter’s Punch was invented in the West Indies, specifically in Jamaica, probably somewhere between the late 18th-century to early 19th-century. The rum, citrus, and simple syrup concoction was prepared for workers to help them keep cool in the scorching Caribbean heat.
As a British Colony, Jamaica’s refreshing new drink quickly spread to the U.K. Of course, punches were already all the rage in that day, but a new recipe featuring exotic, imported rum was certainly a kick.
Although there is no record of who invented the Planter’s Punch, the first printed recipe appeared in September 1878 in Fun, a London-based magazine:
Planter’s Punch! A West Indian Recipe
A wine-glass with lemon juice fill, of sugar the same glass, fill twice
Then rub them together until
The mixture looks smooth, soft, and nice.
Of rum then three wine glasses add,
And four of cold water please take. A Drink then you’ll have that’s not bad —
At least, so they say in Jamaica.
In just a few decades, shortened versions start to appear in U.S. newspapers. In 1903, the Kansas City Star condensed it to four, short, sweet lines:
One of sour
One of sweet
Two of strong
And one of weak.
And the New York Times ran one in 1908 that read:
Take two of sour (lime let it be)
To one and a half of sweet.
Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
And add four parts of weak.
We can assume the water was added as rum, back in those days, came in at a smoking hot, scorch-your-mustache-off proof.
Rum drinks soared in popularity until Prohibition. Thanks to America’s tiki pioneers, Donn Beach (Don the Beachcomber tiki bars) and Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic Polynesian restaurants), they made a comeback after the second World War. Planter’s Punch appeared on both menus. Don the Beachcomber adds grenadine, falernum, and bitters, and Trader Vic’s features grenadine and soda water.
But as mentioned before, the Planter’s Punch was meant to be riffed on. With such a balanced foundation of sweet and sour, it begs for improv, much like a melody calls to a jazz musician.
However, if anyone tries to tell you Planter’s Punch hails from Charleston, South Carolina, invented at the Planters Inn, that’s one thing the drink is not. That is a more urban legend, although they do enjoy their Planter’s Punch in Charleston.
Now you know the rest of the story, and here’s a recipe, albeit unrhymed, to try a taste of Jamaica’s own:
- 2 parts Banks 7 Golden Age Rum
- 3/4 parts Pineapple Juice
- 3/4 parts Cranberry Syrup (equal parts fresh cranberry juice and simple syrup)
- 1/2 parts Orange Juice
- 1/2 parts Lime Juice
- 1 dash of Angostura Bitters
- Mint sprig
Preparation: Shake with ice and strain into a terra cotta cup filled with pebble ice. Garnish with a mint sprig and three cranberries.