If you don’t have at least one bittersweet rum punch memory – or memory loss, as the case may be – you haven’t really been on one of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean.
The rum punch recipes are different all over the world. Every country and every town – even each bar or rum shop – has its own twist to it! The rum punches on my rock, Carriacou, and the rocks around it are particularly strong because they are traditionally made with extremely strong local rum. I am talking about the stuff that gets bottled at 90+ percent alcohol and is not (legally) shipped in airplanes.
Off-label “real” Jack Iron is what is used in Carriacou. In other places, it might be high proof variations of Rivers rum or Sunset rum, to name just a few of the “intoxicated” liquors. Jack Iron is exported from Trinidad in barrels to blend in the rum of other distilleries in order to bring it up to proof. In Carriacou, Jack Iron isn’t mixed with another rum, as there are no distilleries on this island. It gets bottled straight from the barrel and some blend it with their own selection of spices. Apart from mixing rum punch or other cocktails with it, many locals drink Jack Iron straight and if they chase it, it’s only with water. It is so strong, that the ice cubes won’t float, but rather sink to the bottom of the glass. Also, it is commonly used as a fire starter and for first aid.
After living here for a while, you notice that practically everyone seems to have their own rum punch story to tell. All the stories pretty much start out the same: Somebody had previously warned you about the strong local rum and told you to be very careful, but you didn’t take it too seriously. You thought you would be fine and you have been fine so far. You may have been drinking the local rum before or may have even grown up around / with it and you can surely hold your own. The story then continues that the stars had aligned just right and you were with the right group of people. You were having a good time and the sweet and tasty rum punches just kept coming your way. That is usually all you will remember. Everything after that is not recorded in your brain or has been filled in afterwards by somebody else. If you are particularly fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on the content), you find photos and videos the next day to help you fill in the blanks. Often, you wish you could remain oblivious to what had happened the day before.
After my own first serious encounter with rum punch, I sure wished I didn’t remember anything and that nobody would ever speak of it again. Apparently, my memory loss came from 8 rum punches within less than 2 hours – they only had 8 oz cups at this bar though, and I only remember drinking two of them. That in itself is a statement, as I am known for having a quite good memory (even when I have been drinking too much). The next morning, I woke up to a text message saying: “How does the new tattoo on your back look?” After a moment of panic, I realized that fortunately, the tattoo wasn’t a permanent one, but another of my sources claimed that 8 rum punches are the record at this little famous bar, built on a pile of conch shells in the sea. I can only hope that this and other reports of that evening aren’t all that accurate. And who the hell ordered and paid for all those drinks?!
Luckily, I am not alone. Over the last 2.5 years, I have been amused by countless stories of people being very silly after they had just a couple of rum punches themselves…
People who found themselves contemplating sleeping on the beach or the side of the road because the punch hit them so hard when they were walking home.
People who suddenly felt a need to take a dip in the sea or cake themselves in sand.
People who had a big urge to take off their clothes in public places (the front yard, the road, the taxi…).
People who became overly friendly with their friends.
People who started pulling the hair of their frenemies.
People who decided it was a good idea to crawl through the dog flap into somebody’s house at 2 am.
And I will never forget my friend, who had us looking for her lost purse all over the island after a “bar crawl” because she couldn’t remember that she had – in a bout of rum-induced paranoia – preventatively hidden it in a very secret spot in our car so it wouldn’t get lost or stolen.
Funny enough, all the rum punch stories end in a very similar way too. There is usually a hat, a towel, a pair of sunglasses, or – in one case – a pair of dogs missing, but a whole bunch of extra sand in the bed the next morning. The cool thing about a small island community is that the lost items and dogs always seem to find their way back to their owners and their journeys make hilarious stories. What won’t come back is the memory of how one got to bed and as everyone tries to get over their brutal hangover, you’ll eventually hear the words: “I’m never going to drink rum (punch) again!”
And we won’t… until the next time, when the stars align just right.
Do you have a rum punch story to share?