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Fish House Punch is older than the United States of America. Many recipes and adjustments later, it’s still a great Summer drink, or, served warm and mulled, a comforting companion on cold Winter nights. Even though punch is often served in a bowl for a crowd, there’s no rule that says you can’t mix just one glass.
The beverage in question originally hails from the State in Schuylkill (it’s pronounced SKOO-kl) Fishing Company, also known as the Fish House, in 1730s Philadelphia. The State in Schuylkill was (and is?) a weird ‘sovereign’ nation in Pennsylvania whose members call themselves ‘citizens.’ Think British East India Company, or the Hudson Bay Company. The tradition of the Fish House, however, is one of rebellion. In colonial America, the British were not popular, so colonists organized themselves in groups far from King and Crown, and were mostly left alone. Citizens of the State in Schuylkill would fish and drink punch. Of course all things came to a head because the Brits liked taxes and the future Americans didn’t.
It wasn’t the taxes of the Boston Tea Party that lit the fuse of revolution, although it didn’t help. The tax that first pissed off the colonists was the Molasses Act of 1733 in which the British placed a tax on sugar and molasses imported from non British nations because what’s made from molasses? Yes, rum. Who else was making rum? The colonists because, why buy from the English what you can make yourself? What’s made with rum? Lots of things, including Fish House Punch.
1733, some historians would argue, was a tipping point in the colonies, and the eventual result was war and independence. George Washington, as with all Americans, enjoyed a drink, and was quite fond of Fish House Punch. Oral history contends that Washington, one post revolutionary evening, raised 13 victory toasts, one for each colony, now state, and, subsequently found diary entries beyond his ability for 3 days. True enough that Washington would have toasted victory, but was it hangover that kept the general from writing, or could it have been that he had just won a difficult war against the most powerful military in the world and wanted a rest? We’ll never know, but we do know Washington did, indeed, drink Fish House Punch, and we also do know that Fish House Punch is a powerful cocktail. So maybe it was a hangover after all.
Whatever afflictions befell the general, self inflicted or not, Fish House Punch is an exceptionally easy drink, and still popular today. We don’t often enjoy drinks with two or more base spirits, but Fish House Punch, with both rum and cognac, is a rare exception. The difference here is, not only proper selection of both rum and brandy, but the addition of peach liqueur, which acts as the unifying ingredient. The peach sort of makes everyone play nice together and it works, as America’s first president apparently found out.
So what are the best ingredients? That depends on the recipe, and ours comes from Death and Co. which we adapted for local spirits. The rum is traditionally a Jamaican rum, and Trail Distilling offers the Jamaican style First City Rum, a perfect choice for this cocktail. First City Rum has all the funky character of some of the finest Jamaican rums we’ve tasted, but it’s not overpowering. It’s a rum that sips quietly and smoothly, but answers the call when you need it to go toe to toe with cognac in a cocktail like Fish House Punch. And the cognac? Yeah, it shouldn’t shy away either. Cognac is traditional in this drink, but we have several brandy choices in Portland that fit the bill. We favor the award winning Treos Brandy from Vivacity Spirits. Treos is made from Oregon pinot noir in the traditional European style, and aged in French oak for 2 years. The result is something on par with any proper old world VS, and we’re happy with that. There’s no need for that super expensive VSOP or XO in a cocktail, so save your money.
As mentioned, peach liqueur is the ringmaster in our glass. Some years ago, Stone Barn Brandy Works made a peach liqueur, but it’s no longer available. If you have some, or can find it, use it. Peach brandy is the historically preferred ingredient, but we use Giffard Crème de Pêche de vigne, as specified by Death and Co. Lemon juice and soda finish the drink. The lemon adds acidity, and the soda adds the perception of even more acid, and some zesty fizz for one of the most refreshing and social cocktails you’ll find anywhere. In the end, Fish House Punch is a cocktail (or a punch) that’s stood the test of time for almost 300 years. I think we can drink to that.
2 oz Cold soda
3/4 oz First City Rum
3/4 oz Treos Brandy
3/4 oz Giffard Crème de Pêche de vigne
3/4 oz Lemon juice
1/4 oz Cane sugar syrup
1 strip Lemon peel
Pour the soda into a goblet or collins glass. Short shake the remaining ingredients (about a 5 second shake with ice should do) and add to the glass with the soda. Add ice, and garnish with a lemon wheel, and, optionally, fresh grated nutmeg.