Philadelphia Fish-House Punch
Recipe - Makes about 25 Servings
3 cups (about one 750ml bottle) Jamaican Rum
1½ cups cognac
½ cup peach brandy (substitute apple brandy or an additional tablespoon of peach liqueur)
¼ cup peach liqueur
2 cups lemon shrub (add another ½ cup per extra quart of water)
1 quart cold water - (or more if additional dilution is desired, up to 3 quarts)
Thoroughly chill all ingredients, the spirits can even go in the freezer beforehand. When ready to serve, combine everything into a punch bowl, preferably over one large ice cube - otherwise add about 2 more cups of ice, and briefly stir to combine. Ladle into punch cups - the smaller the better.
The Fish-House Punch has a lasting legacy for being strong and delicious - which it most certainly is indeed. Add to that a history that dates back to 1700s colonial America, and I don’t disagree with David Wondrich when he calls it the “greatest of all American Punches”. So despite the somewhat silly name, this is one serious drink.
The Fish-House Punch was the official beverage of the State in Schuylkill - a kind of men’s club whose members (they actually refer to themselves as citizens) enjoy outdoor recreation, eating, and drinking - that went on to become one of the more popular tipples of its day. More on that below.
In recent decades, it has been hoisted up by the cocktail community and become beloved all over again. But this is not just blind romanticization. Make no mistake, 200 years later, the Fish-House Punch lives up to the hype. It does take a bit of preparation - mainly for the oleo-saccharam - and shopping - peach brandy is a tricky one to navigate - but once you take that first sip and imagine yourself raising a glass with George Washington, you’ll know it was worth it. Just don't skimp on the water!
If you make a batch of Philadelphia
Fish-House Punch, I'd love to see it!
Tag a photo with #socialhourcocktails on Instagram.
Jamaica's robust style of rum is essential to a proper Fish-House Punch. My favorite to use is actually a blend of 4 parts Appleton Signature to 1 part Smith and Cross - or 20 oz and 5 oz respectively for the large recipe. But Appleton by itself is also just dandy. As is Plantation Jamaica 2002, Coruba or really any aged Jamaican rum you can get your hands on.
You don’t need to go top shelf. A solid VSOP is fine. Pierre Ferrand 1840 is what I’ve always used, which gives you a little more proof. Martell VSOP is also a good and affordable option.
As I say on the Georgia Julep Page: "this does not mean a sweet peach liqueur or peach-flavored brandy, but rather a full proof, barrel-aged brandy distilled entirely from peaches." It used to be very common but "sadly, there are very few genuine peach brandies available nowadays and those are not widely circulated. Of the handful I’ve tried, the best far and away is Peach Street Distillers Peach Brandy." But if you don't have any peach brandy, don't worry, a Fish-House Punch you can still make. As I say in the recipe, just use apple brandy (Laird's 100 proof ideally), or just a touch more peach liqueur. Southern Comfort could even step in, in a pinch.
As you can see in the recipe across the page, this is a mixture of lemon juice and oleo-saccharum, which is lemon peels macerated in sugar. If you don't have any on hand, or the time/motivation to make it, you can simply substitute 1 cup lemon juice and 1 cup (or perhaps a hair more) simple syrup for it in the recipe.
Water is added to the Fish-House because there isn't dilution added from shaking or stirring, and this thing needs dilution badly. I know I have a wide range of added water suggested in my recipe. The way I see it, it depends on the occasion. I personally find the Fish-House more satisfying when it's concentrated and closer to proper cocktail strength, which is how we serve it at Clover Club. Though that's only if I'm having 1 or 2 glasses. David Wondrich, to reference him for the billionth time, uses about 3 times more water than I do. He's working with a recipe that dates back to 1795, and that punch is designed to be something you can drink all afternoon, and still get hammered on of course, it was the 1700s after all. So for a big house party, where people may drink 5 or 6 glasses of punch, you'll probably want to add another quart or two. As always, taste, adjust and use your best (and most responsible) judgment.
Lack of shaking or stirring is also why it’s important to get everything cold before you mix it up. For best results keep the spirits in the freezer overnight and be sure to use chilled water, stir it with ice first if you have to. Making a big ice cube in a bread or cake pan goes a long way too. Give it 24 hours or so to freeze.
The History of Fish-House Punch - A National Treasure
In 1732 a group of 28 Quakers who were followers of William Penn (as in, Penn-slyvania) founded a fishing/social club which met on the banks of the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia. They called themselves the Colony of Schuylkill (colony was used first because these were the Pre-Revolutionary War days. Postwar they followed suit with the other colonies and began referring to themselves as a State.). Initially, the group’s activities were organized around the annual shad run up the river. That is, until damming stunted their annual migration.
But no matter, they had other means of occupying their time. One of the club's primary pursuits took place once every other week during the summer when they would convene at their Fish House - or the castle, as they called it - to collectively prepare and consume a gargantuan feast, lubricated by their signature punch, served in an equally gargantuan bowl.
Over time, some of those who were invited to partake in these proceedings - which reportedly included George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, as well as a host of other colonial celebrities - spread the word of the exceptionally tasty and mysteriously deadly Fish-House Punch they encountered there. Recipes for it began to appear in newspapers, then books, and over time as legend grew, the punch gained widespread popularity.
The State still exists today, though they’ve dispatched with the fishing and hunting, and just eat and drink together. Back in 1905, the New York Times ran an article on the club calling the State in Schuylkill the “Oldest Dining Club in the World ”. But don't get too excited, as of 2005, it’s reportedly next to impossible to get into.
Connecting to the Past
I’ve been enamored with the idea of having Fish-House Punch on patriotic U.S. holidays ever since I heard that Dave Wondrich serves it at his annual 4th of July party (also at that party the guests apparently pass around the Declaration of Independence, taking turns reading it aloud. Amazing.).
But this has also made me ask the question, what makes the signature drink of a club full of old rich white guys so Patriotic? Well for one, many of its members had some solid Patriotic cred - Samuel Morris for example, who served as the State’s “Governor" from 1776 until 1812, the year he died - was also a soldier in the revolutionary war. But for me, it’s less about the State or its citizens - with all due respect to them of course. Rather it's about a continuous tradition that’s as old as America itself. I like the idea that back in 1776 someone was sitting in a tavern getting pleasantly inebriated on a glass of Fish-House Punch, who was hopeful and fearful about the future of his nation, just as I am today. And while the reasons for our hopes and worries may be different, it's comforting to think that what’s in our glasses is not. Some things, like cocktail recipes, never change.
Fish-House Single Serving
I know these proportions don't match up exactly with the recipe above. Extrapolating, or shrinking, cocktail recipes is funny that way.
1½ oz Jamaican rum
¾ oz cognac
½ oz peach brandy or apple brandy
1 teaspoon peach liqueur
1¼ oz lemon shrub
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and stir for 30-40 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. No garnish.
2 cups lemon juice (made from the lemons)
2 cups sugar
Peel the lemons, reserving the fruit, and combine the peels with the sugar in a closed container. Make sure all the peels are coated or covered.
Let sit, shaking occasionally, until the sugar is all or mostly dissolved into the extracted lemon oil, it will typically take 6-12 hours. This is oleo-saccharum.
Juice the peeled lemons until you have 1 1/2 cups of juice.
Combine the juice and oleo-saccharum and stir until any remaining sugar is dissolved.
Strain out the lemon peels, refrigerate. Will keep for about two weeks.