The Happiest Hours: Pack a Punch this Holiday Season

For those gallant souls who are actually brave enough to entertain during the holiday season we humbly present for your consideration: Punch.

It may sound a little “Betty Draper” to you, but consider the virtues of the punch bowl: High caliber ingredients, mass quantity preparation, and cool in a serious Colonial-era, old school kind of way.  What’s more, you can tell your dubious know-it-all brother-in-law that punch is actually the precursor to the modern cocktail, as it is a libation that has been popular in this country since before the American Revolution.

Punch was extremely popular in Colonial Boston, and every family who could afford one had a punch bowl. In 1768, the Sons of Liberty commissioned an elaborate silver punch bowl from Paul Revere.  (You may recall the Sons of Liberty as those pesky Colonists who gathered at the Green Dragon and hatched a plot to toss tea crates into the harbor.) Paul Revere’s Liberty Bowl is now in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

As one might suspect, the result of “trading” with the Caribbean countries brought a great deal of rum to the colonies. Thus, rum, as well as lemons, were common ingredients in the punch recipes of the day.

But there are no shortage of recipes. Simply put, there is a punch for every party. (Or as David Wondrich writes in his book, Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl, “It’s not punch if there is nobody to drink it.”)

One of the most revered punch recipes is believed to have been created in 1732 in Philadelphia, at the Schuylkill Fishing Company, also known as the “Fish House,” a dignified gentlemen’s society devoted to manly vices such as cigars, whiskey, and the occasional fishing expedition. Fish House Punch became quite popular—even palatable to the ladies—and it is said that John Adams was so partial to this tipple that it was often served at the White House (of which he was the inaugural resident.)

Recipes vary, but the gist of Fish House Punch is sugar, lemon juice, Cognac, peach brandy, and Jamaican rum served in a commodious bowl that can accommodate a large block of ice. Some recipes call for dilution with spring water, others black tea—another common ingredient in punch of this time period. No matter the recipe, you can be sure that this concoction will be quite strong.

Accordingly, Wondrich warns on his Esquire cocktail blog, this punch “is so tasty that you’ll want to put away about a quart of it, and so strong that after you do you’ll forget where your pants are—even if you happen to still be wearing them, which is by no means certain…”

On second thought, maybe just stick to wine at your holiday party … lest you have images of your pantless know-it-all brother-in-law dancing in your head.

Fish House Punch, photograph by Romulo Yanes for the Wall Street Journal

Fish House Punch

From Esquire Magazine

1 cup of sugar
3 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice
1 (750 ml) bottle Jamaican rum
12 oz. cognac
2 oz. peach brandy

Dissolve the sugar in the water. Then add remaining of the ingredients. Add large block of ice, and chill for at least three hours.


For more about the history of Boston’s bars and Colonial drinks like punch, pick up a copy of Drinking Boston: A History of the City and Its Spirits, by Stephanie Schorow. To help you explore the Hub’s best bars (both historic and contemporary) download our free smartphone app. Cheers!


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