Ti’Punch Cup 2018: Rhum Agricole’s Moment in the Sun

The Ti’Punch Cup 2018 was a stunning sophomore effort from Rhum Clément. Laurence Marot wraps up all the action from a competition that’s got more and more bartenders talking about rhum agricole. 
From March 12 to 16, bartenders from around the world gathered in Martinique to compete around the second edition of the Rhum Clément Ti’Punch Cup. A high-profile competition based on the emblematic drink of Martinique.

Rhum Agricole: From Obscurity to Cocktail Competitions

After a long period of neglect, rhum agricole – the French Caribbean rum made from sugar cane juice – is becoming something of a secret weapon among bartenders. Marked by a highly aromatic profile, rhum agricole has long been a staple of local drinks in the French West Indies. None is more prominent than ti’punch, Martinique’s answer to the Cuban daiquiri: rhum agricole, lime juice, and sugar cane syrup.
The explosion of rum, from the United States to Australia, motivated the French brands to follow in the footsteps of cocktail competitions like Bacardi Legacy and Grand Prix Havana. It’s an excellent strategy to boost rhum agricole’s profile in international markets, in which it currently only makes up about 5%.
In 2016, three major rhum agricole companies inaugurated their first cocktail competitions: Saint-James with Bartenders Society, Trois Rivières with Rhumbellion, and Rhum Clément with the Ti’Punch Cup which has just complete its second edition. With this meticulously prepared event, Rhum Clément certainly attracted a diverse community of bartenders, most of whom are rum lovers.

Rhum Clément Makes The Most of Its History

Rhum Clément was founded by Homère Clément, who in 1887 bought the Domaine Acajou, a sugar cane plantation in Martinique, and devoted the rest of his life to rum, creating his eponymous distillery in 1917. His son Charles took the reins in the 1930s and developed rhum agricole for export. On his death in 1973, his sons managed the family business before selling it to Yves and Bernard Hayot in 1986.
Today, the Domaine Acajou, dedicates much of its estate to sugar cane, which is harvested from January to June. The aging of the rum also takes place here in the estate’s six cellars, under the supervision of cellar master Robert Peronet. The Rhum Clément distillery opens the doors of the Habitation Clément to more than 100,000 tourists a year. Visitors have access to the magnificent 16-hectare tropical gardens, the Fondation Clément Center for Contemporary Art dedicated to Caribbean artists, and the house with Creole architecture where Homère Clément lived.

The Ti’Punch Cup 2018: A Global Showdown

On March 14, the old Rhum Clément distillery was transformed for the Ti’Punch Cup. It made an unusual but grandiose setting for a cocktail competition. The column stills framed the giant screen that projected the performance of the competitors from all angles. The sound of birdsong was replaced by a DJ set, mixing R&B with creole music and, the international bartenders were that day’s tourist attraction.
Rhum Clément distributor Spiribam has the unenviable task of organizing the Ti’Punch Cup. Why the focus on ti’punch and not a more modern cocktail? “It’s true that the ti’punch has a rather old-fashioned and not premium image in the cocktail world. But this local drink represents the history, the philosophy and the soil of Martinique. It has a real legitimacy for a competition,” says export manager Matthieu De Lassus.
The concept has struck a chord with bartenders from 14 countries this year, including newcomers in 2018 such as Spain, Germany, and Vietnam. “For the first edition, we had to prove ourselves. For the second, the level of finalists rose, we managed to attract bartenders accustomed to competitions, because the bartenders have trusted us,” says global marketing manager Audrey Buisson.

Playing by the Rules in Round One

The rules of the competition are simple and precise: keep the structure of ti’punch based on Rhum Clément, with something acidic, something sweet, and two complementary ingredients, but nothing homemade. “They can extrapolate but stay in the spirit of the ti’punch,” explains Audrey Buisson. Fifteen candidates from around the world compete on a single day. This year, the competitors came from Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Martinique, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.
The competition is divided into three rounds, and the pressure rises as the day progresses. First up, under the critical eye of a jury of four experts, including Simon Difford and French bartender Sullivan Doh, each bartender presented their version of ti’punch. Only 10 candidates can make it through to the second round. A few ti’punches caught our attention for their performance, their flavors, and their presentation: the freshness and simplicity of Martinique’s Yannick Brunot, the humor of the Switzerland’s Ivan Urech, the enthusiasm of the two Americans, Bethany Ham and Leanne Favre, and the careful technique of Dave (Ching Yin) Lam from China.

Playing with Your Food in Round Two

The second round saw a new jury take the stage: the Swiss Dirk Hany, world winner of the 2016 Ti’Punch Cup, Thanos Prunarus, owner of Baba au Rhum bar, Dimitri Malouta, commercial director of Rhum Clément Martinique, and Martinique chef Guy Ferdinand, owner of the gourmet restaurant Le Petibonum au Carbet. The afternoon session ups the ante: a food pairing that will judge the creative ability of the bartenders. In a few minutes, they have to use a selection of exotic and local ingredients to make a rhum agricole cocktail to compliment Ferdinand’s uniquely Martinique food menu, featuring a Mangatale crayfish with a passionfruit sauce, vanilla giraumon purée, a honey-glazed lamb chop with star anise and cinnamon, breadfruit fries, cakes and mints.
Despite a very close score, three bartenders came out on top. An amazing trio with a diverse backgrounds: Martinique local Yannick Brunot, a rhum agricole expert who works at rooftop bar Le Cloud in Fort de France, China’s Dave (Ching Yin) Lam, a newcomer to rhum agricole but a fierce competitor in cocktail competitions, and American Bethany Ham, a rhum agricole lover and head bartender at Clifton’s Republic in LA.

The Quick-fire Round

The last and most intense round is all about speed. The final three bartenders have a very short time to squeeze 10 lemons, crack the head of a coconut, make a cocktail, and answer a question about Rhum Clément. It was a very tight race between Dave Lam’s calm and precise movements and Bethany Ham’s ingenuity. In the end, the victory went to Ham, with the warm applause of the public. From the first round, her amazing Pelée Punch, made with Clément Canne Bleue and presented in a ceramic glass pineapple, marked her out. It was a fresh and aromatic ti’punch that subtly puts forward the blue cane flavor of the white rhum. We hope to see Pelée Punch taking LA by storm in the near future!


Foto: v.o.n.u. Bethany Ham, Elliot Clark, Lionel Chamoiseau

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