"LISTEN TO ME! That shot set my insides on FIRE. This must be why they call this firewater, right?"
Puncheon Rum, just Puncheon or Firewater has inspired at least one chutney song and is the stuff of legend in the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Its origins can be traced back to the 1930s when the prominent Fernandes family purchased an old sugar estate in Forres Park, Claxton Bay in Central Trinidad. The reason for the purchase was the continued manufacturing of their Vat-19 brand of rum. In the early days of the sugar estate, Puncheon Rum was nothing more than an indulgence reserved for the Fernandes Family and the estate workers. It owes its namesake to the over-sized wooden casks called ‘puncheons’, in which the rum was aged. Puncheon is classified as an over-proof rum and boasts an alcohol content of 75% per volume.
Once word spread of the potency of Puncheon, the Fernandes’ began mass-producing the product under the Forres Park brand, thus making Puncheon available locally, regionally, and internationally. Initially, the Puncheon drinker in Trinidad and Tobago was seen as a rowdy person that only patronized hock and spit bars and community rum shops, where he/she easily spent the entire day, drinking. Forres Park Puncheon is now enjoyed by any- and everyone, so much so that it has become the #2 rum brand in Trinidad and Tobago.
In 2017, I had my first dalliance with Puncheon Rum. I was somewhere between Sangre Grande and Matura on my way to a river lime. When I told my friend that I thought I was coming down with the flu, he suggested, as friends do, that I take a shot of Puncheon and lime juice to clear up whatever symptoms I was feeling. That way, I could enjoy all the rum and curried duck that the river lime promised. In a surprising twist, there was no lime juice at the bar, so I had to settle for a $20 Puncheon shot in one of those tiny plastic bottles. My friend assured me that it would still work without the lime juice.
As small as the bottle was, I was hit with the pungent aroma of rubbing alcohol as soon as I cracked the seal. I was super concerned at this point; rubbing alcohol is to be applied, not ingested. However, my need to fully enjoy the river lime and not seem like a wuss trumped my concern. So, I closed my eyes and took the shot.
LISTEN TO ME! That shot set my insides on FIRE. I wasn’t sure what I expected from a rum nicknamed, firewater, but this was too much. Then, I took a deep breath, and my insides burned for a second, blistering time. Surely, a huge ingredient in Puncheon is the Spirits of all those estate workers from the 1930s, because this burn was beyond the natural realm, it had to be spiritual.
I felt overwhelmed. My body and my senses did not know how to react. I coughed. Tears came to my eyes. I spluttered. My friend pat me on my back, laughing. I called out for my Mother. OK, that last part was me exaggerating, but whew, I was in a mess. It served its purpose though, the river lime was epic, and I enjoyed all the rum and curried duck, albeit with a throat that felt burned raw.
Most persons take their Puncheon the way I did my first time, as a shot. Others drink it on the rocks. Some chase the fire with Coca Cola, with juices that run the gamut from cranberry to pineapple to orange or with a Lemon, Lime, and Bitters. There are also those who have their Puncheon with a Guinness. Called the Donkey Kick, the mix is supposed to bestow its male drinkers with remarkable sexual prowess. Then, there’s my personal favorite- Brass & Steel, which mixes Puncheon with a Stag beer. The Brass is the Stag beer, which is bronze in color like the iron, while the Steel denotes the unyielding alcohol content and potency of Forres Park Puncheon Rum. I either pour a little bit of Puncheon in a cup topped with a splash of Stag and take a shot, or I mix equal parts Puncheon and Stag with some ice and sip away.
So, when next you find yourself coming down with the flu, on your way to a river lime or looking for pure fire, try some Forres Park Puncheon Rum. You will be guaranteed an out of this world experience!