I do love me a Planter’s Punch in the summertime. That refreshing combination of dark rum… or is it light rum? Anyway, rum with fresh lemon juice… or is that lime juice? Then sweetened with a little sugar… or maybe it’s grenadine, the real pomegranate stuff, of course. Add to that a little pineapple juice… or is it orange juice? I swear we had one on the menu a decade ago that used passion fruit purée. I can’t remember. But it definitely doesn’t have any bitters in it… or does it?
Listen, guys, it’s not my memory that’s muddled here. It’s the Planter’s Punch itself that lacks clarity, from its origins to its ingredients. Some sources say it was invented at the Planters Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. Other sources swear that it’s a traditional plantation drink from Jamaica. And there is no official recipe for the drink either. Don’t believe me? Go look it up. You’ll never see the same recipe twice.
Stanley Clisby Arthur says the drink uses rum, lime, sugar, and possibly Peychaud’s bitters. Trader Vic called for dark rum, grenadine, lemon and lime juices, and sugar. Dale DeGroff specifies light and dark rums, orange, pineapple, and lime juices, orange curaçao, sugar, grenadine, soda water and bitters.
So what is an enthusiastic cocktail-minded drink mixer supposed to do in this case? Well, I’ve always taken the tack that when there is no “official” recipe, you’re free to incorporate the elements that you see most often repeated in all of those different versions and come up with your own. What I see when I look at all of these recipes is a basic combination of dark Jamaican rum, citrus, sugar, and some other fruit juice.
What follows is my basic formula for a solid Planter’s Punch. Feel free to add and subtract as you like, but at the end of the day you can never go wrong with this as your house recipe for this classic cocktail that has fallen victim to the universal law of entropy.
• 1½ oz. dark Jamaican rum (I like to use half Myers’s and half Appleton Estate 12 Year)
• ¾ oz. lemon juice
• ½ oz. 2:1 simple syrup
• 1 oz. fresh orange juice
• 1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake ingredients with ice cubes until cold. Strain over fresh crushed ice in a tall glass. Garnish as you see fit.
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Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.