Fish House Punch
Makes 18-20 drinks
Ask a real cocktail nerd for their favourite punch recipe to serve to a crowd, and chances are they’ll name the Fish House Punch. It’s one of those recipes that resurfaced during the cocktail renaissance, although it dates much farther back than most of the others. One of its biggest fans is historian David Wondrich, who serves it at July 4 gatherings, and has even said it should be taught as part of the mandatory American history curriculum. A sweetened mix of lemon, rum, and fruit brandies, it was the signature serve at the Colony Club in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, which opened in 1732. Its upper-class members, many considered important figures in the American Revolution, referred to it as their “fish house.”
Notably, the drink was not created by a club steward. According to Wondrich, the members of the club each had their own task in bringing the venue’s banquets to life. They wore wide-brimmed straw hats and large white aprons with fishes on them as they prepared food and mixed the punch. The recipe was likely developed some time in the 1790s, when punches with more than one spirit were de rigueur.
Although no official recipe was revealed at the time, it wasn’t exactly a secret with club members. Recipes began to show up in print by the 1850s, including in Jerry Thomas’ How To Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion published in 1862, and have undergone multiple tweaks and ingredient substitutions over the centuries.
Origin: Philadelphia, USA
Premises: Colony Club
Alcohol Type: Rum
200 g caster sugar
4 lemons, peeled, with peels set aside
950ml hot water (some prefer using brewed black tea for extra flavour)
240ml lemon juice
950ml dark rum, preferably a mildly estery style such as those from Jamaica
480ml Cognac or good grape brandy
120ml peach brandy
Garnish: grated nutmeg and at least 2 lemons, sliced
1. Create an ole-saccharum in a large bowl by thoroughly mixing the sugar with the lemon peels (best done with clean hands) and letting it sit for at least 30 minutes (a couple of hours is best) to release the lemon oils. Dissolve the sugar in the same bowl with the hot water. Do not discard the peels. Add the lemon juice and spirits and mix. Grate nutmeg over, add ice, and arrange lemon slices over the top. Serve in a punch bowl, or in a glass.
NOTE Freeze water in a small bowl or Bundt pan (tin) to create a large block of ice the day before serving. This is the best way to keep the prepared punch cool and not dilute it too much as it sits. Additionally, plan to begin making the punch a couple of hours before serving, even the morning (or night!) before.
Extracted from the book Signature Cocktails by Amanda Schuster, published by Phaidon.