Need a cooling, cheering summer refresher? Something you can make in quantity for a crowd? Or just by the glass for yourself and friends?
Punch to the rescue! Philadelphia Fish House Punch was one of America’s earliest “mixed drinks.” Several founding fathers drank it. Who knew they were such party animals?
Take that, George III.
Punch combines alcohol (particularly spirits) and fruit. It arrived in the American colonies with the first English settlers. Perhaps the most famous colonial-era punch was the one we feature today.
The Philadelphia Fish House Punch originated with a gentlemen’s club that called itself (for some reason) the State in Schuylkill Fishing Company – or, before independence, the Colony in Schuylkill. The members eventually built a clubhouse that they named The Castle. But most people just called it the Fish House.
The club worthies created a punch from rum, cognac, lemons, and peach brandy – but they kept the original recipe secret. Today, there are several recipes that purport to be the real deal. We favor the one championed by cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich.
Originally, the punch was made in a bowl large enough to use as a baptismal font (for which it was actually purposed). We don’t need a batch that big, so we favor a single-serving recipe. But if you’re serving a crowd, we include a recipe for the full-sized version in the Notes.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare and serves 1.
- 2 ounces aged Jamaican rum (we favor amber, but dark works too; see Notes)
- 1 ounce cognac or brandy
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 1 to 1½ teaspoons simple syrup (to taste; see Notes)
- ~½ to 1 teaspoon peach brandy (see Notes)
- ~1 ounce sparkling water
- garnish of lemon slice or twist (optional)
- Add all ingredients (except sparkling water and optional garnish) to a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the contents are well chilled (20 seconds or so).
- Strain into a rocks (old-fashioned) glass filled with ice. Top off with sparkling water, add garnish if desired, and serve.
- Want to make this for a crowd? Add 1½ cups sugar to a punch bowl. Add enough water to dissolve it (a quart or two). Add 1 quart lemon juice, 2 quarts aged Jamaican rum, 1 quart cognac or brandy, and 4 ounces peach brandy. Stir thoroughly to mix. Add a big block of ice to chill the punch.
- These days, it’s difficult to buy the type of peach brandy that was available in the 18th century. What you’re likely to find today is sweeter – it’s more liqueur than actual brandy. So we suggest adding ½ teaspoon to start, then adding more if necessary (you’re looking for just a hint of peach flavor; if you add too much of a modern peach “brandy,” its flavor will overpower the drink).
- Because the peach brandy you’ll be adding will probably be sweet, be careful with how much simple syrup you use – you don’t want to make this drink too sweet (unless, of course, you like sweet drinks).
- Some drinkers substitute pear or apple brandy for peach. We haven’t tried this, but you may wish to.
- Originally, this drink would have been made with still water (probably boiling, to make it easier to dissolve the sugar). But in a single-serving version, we like the addition of bubbles. So we use sparkling water.
- Some recipes for this punch replace part of the water with black tea.
- We’ve made this punch with both amber and dark Jamaican rum. We think it looks (and drinks) best when made with an aged amber rum. But dark rum has its charms too, so feel free to experiment. BTW, some “dark” rums actually look more like amber rum.
- For this drink, it’s best to use an amber rum with deep, somewhat complex flavor (but one that’s not too funky). Appleton Estate Signature Blend Jamaica Rum or (better yet) their 8-Year-Old Reserve would work well. If you want something darker, Myers’s dark rum is a good choice.
- Our usual disclaimer: We’re noncommercial and are not compensated for mentioning brands. We recommend only what we like and buy with our own money.
- The East India Company imported the concept of (and the word for) “punch” from India in the 17th century. We discuss the history of punch at length in our post on the Bombay Presidency Punch.
“Tasty!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, holding out her glass for a refill.
“I’m pleased as punch that you like this,” I said, mixing another round.
“But we better be careful,” said Mrs K R. “I hear that George Washington once overindulged on this punch and was out of commission for three days.”
“Wow, dangerous,” I said. “He could have mislaid his false teeth.”
“He supposedly succumbed after offering a separate toast for each of the 13 colonies,” said Mrs K R.
Yeah, that would have been a knockout punch.
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