Like the Constitution, the flag, and the Liberty Bell, one of America’s earliest mixed drinks was made in Philadelphia. As detailed in Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters, a compendium of American cocktail history by D.C.-based mixologist and National Archives chief spirits advisor Derek Brown (out in March from Rizzoli), Fish House Punch was the signature drink of one of the country’s first—and now oldest—social clubs, the Schuylkill Fishing Company.
Founded by Quakers in 1732, the “State in Schuylkill” was initially established as a separate colony, bestowing club officers with governmental titles. The club approached their rum-soaked punch with equal gravitas, and while the recipe remained secret until 1862, its potency became the stuff of legend—including that George Washington overindulged during a 1787 visit to the club. Perhaps the president experienced a feeling akin to one described by The Philadelphia Times in a 1896 article about the punch: “He who sips for the first time imagines that he has been made immortal by the ambrosia of the gods, and only realizes, when he is under the table, that he still belongs to the earth.”
Brown serves the punch at his renowned D.C. cocktail bar, Columbia Room, and thirsty travelers can still find it in Philadelphia, including at James Beard Award–winning chef Jose Garces’s Olde Bar. There, the drink is listed with this note from cocktail historian David Wondrich, who provided the recipe in Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: “Deserves to be protected by law, taught in the schools, and made a mandatory part of every Fourth of July.”
Fish House Punch
Punch Bowl (8-12 qts)
- Peels of 8 lemons
- 16 ounces fresh lemon juice
- 2 ½ cups Demerara sugar
- 16 ounces boiling water
- 1 (750-milliliter) bottle Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum (or another strong, pungent Jamaican rum)
- 12 ounces VSOP Cognac
- 12 ounces real peach brandy (not peach-flavored brandy)
- 3 quarts (96 ounces) cold water
- Whole nutmeg, grated, and lemon wheels for garnish
Muddle lemon peels with sugar in the bottom of a punch bowl until a thick paste forms (that is called the oleo saccharum). Add boiling water. Allow to cool, then remove peels and add lemon juice and spirits. Add cold water quart by quart to taste. Grate nutmeg on top and garnish with lemon wheels.
Makes 25 servings.