Fish House Punch

Before Nicky and I totally immersed ourselves in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, we had need of a punch recipe. Naturally we went for something as old as possible that had some tradition and meaning behind it. We found a recipe dating back more than 250 years:  “The Philadelphia Fish House Punch.” It was such a hit that we blogged about it and served it for New Year’s Eve. Imagine our delight when we were working in the lab on our vintage cocktail project and turned to page to the next drink – “Philadelphia Fish House Punch!”

H. Harper Station

Over the past few months we have seen a rise in popularity of the punch bowl. Specifically the wonderful offerings of Jerry Slater at H.Harper Station. (Three of us emptied a bowl meant for four to six people. Our work is hard sometimes.) It is important to get past the thought of “punch” being a bad combination of Hawaiian punch and grain alcohol, or orange sherbet and ginger ale. The “flowing bowl” is a beautiful opportunity to bring family and friends together to enjoy what can be envisioned as an oversized handcrafted cocktail. As much love and care and creativity goes into the punch bowl as goes into the highball!

So here is a portion of the blog on “Philadelphia Fish House Punch.” Enjoy.

Fish House Punch
This highly revered flowing bowl was first created in 1732 in Philadelphia at the Schuylkill Fishing Company, also known as “The Fish House.” The Fish House was a  private gentlemen’s society devoted to escaping domestic tribulation while enjoying fishing, cigars, good food and drink. The “Fish House Punch” became the celebratory drink served at the club. Another version of the story holds that the punch was created many years later to celebrate the momentous occasion of women being allowed into the Fish House for the first time as an attempt to liven up the annual Christmas party.

Either way, this refreshment is the official drink of the oldest club in America. It was enjoyed by our founding fathers, and was the drink of choice raised in toast to the birth of our country’s independence July 4, 1776.

While the recipe itself is reported to be a well-kept secret of the society, several versions have been passed around over the years. All seem to agree on the lemon juice, sugar and water, but the mysterious “mixture” (the liquors proper and quantities) are debated. For the definitive recipe, we turned to the well-respected Jerry Thomas and his writings on Fish House Punch. In his book How To Mix Drinks (the first true bartender’s manual, published in 1862) we found what we believe to be the most accurate recipe.

Philadelphia Fish House Punch
1/3 pint lemon juice (5.33 oz)
3/4 pound superfine sugar
2.5 pints cold water
1 pint of “mixture”
1/4 pint of aged peach brandy (4 oz)
1/2 pint of cognac (8 oz)
1/4 pint Jamaican rum (4 oz)

Combine the ingredients several hours in advance and keep chilled. Then one to two hours before serving, pour into a large punch bowl with a sizable single block of ice. Traditionally this punch is not garnished in any way and decorative ice molds are frowned upon. Ladle the punch over the ice block periodically and serve in punch cups.

UPDATE:  Ted Haigh’s Preference
In Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, Haigh duley notes Jerry Thomas’ recipe as probably being the most accurate recipe. However, he prefers and actually published this version from an 1893 book Beverages and Sandwiches For Your Husband’s Friends by One Who Knows. (Seriously. I don’t make this stuff up.)

Fish House Punch
2 quarts Jamaica rum (Appleton)
1 quart brandy (Hennessy)
1/2 pint peach brandy
1/2 pint maraschino liqueur
1 quart freshly made green tea
1 pint lemon juice
1 pound powdered sugar (not confectioner’s)
1 bottle champagne
Stir all together in a large pot with lid. Let brew. (They actually advise brewing for two days.) Pour over a large block of ice in punch bowl and add in the champagne.