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She’s a Fiiish… Hooouse

Drinks generally share the same type of genesis as food: Culture, weather, geography, and available resources conspire to force food and drink in a direction. Rice and fish in Japan. Smoking tough cuts of meat in historically poorer areas. Mussels off the coast of Belgium. Leveraging every last part of highland animals to create haggis in Scotland. And so on.

Beer and wine, of course, fit that mold. Low alcohol, lighter, drier beers or whites in fish-friendly regions. Big wines in regions with spice. Family-brewed beers that fit farming lifestyles or pubs for high-density cities. But I hadn’t really thought much about spirits in that context until this weekend when I brought some Fish House Punch to my co-blogger’s house for a Saturday evening party.

Ted Haigh, aka Dr. Cocktail, writes about the punch:

In 1732, fully 104 years before Texas declared itself a Republic, Schuylkill (pronounced “SKOO-kull”), home of Fish House Punch, was its own colony, and later its own sovereign state. It must’ve been quite a place, too. It had a Navy (well, two boats). It had an army (OK, a cannon). At its core it was a club: The Schuylkill Fishing Company… A recipe as old as Fish House Punch, fervently slurped by the Father of Our Country, has inevitably gone through many fanciful formulations. Jerry Thomas related a simple (and probably accurate) recipe using lemon juice, sugar, water, peach brandy, Cognac and rum in 1862. Another was contributed by Mrs. Goodfellow’s Cooking School in 1907 that added oranges, strawberries or pineapple but called the addition of green tea “an abomination.”

The variations are interesting, and I can’t help but think these variations were spurred on by available ingredients. And more to the point, why rum and brandy? The answer, I suspect, is because of the importance of rum to the early colonies and which would have easily made its way into the areas near Philadelphia, a wealthy city in those days. Not surprisingly, the colonies and territories that would go on to form middle America seemed to acquire a fondness for bourbon, and while they had their own punches and juleps, Fish House Punch was created in a time and place that almost required its invention. Rum was available, and over time, those with access to strawberries or different types of teas or brandies would have altered the recipe to suit their needs, of course. Family recipes would have emerged all around three common ingredients: rum, brandy, and a need to make them easily quaffable.

The recipe I used was based on Haigh’s, with a substitution of some pretty piss poor apricot brandy for his suggested top-shelf peach brandy — in and of itself a choice made because Detroit doesn’t see a big selection of peach brandies.

Fish House Punch

  • 2 quarts Jamaica rum (I used Mount Gay silver)
  • 1 quart brandy (I used Hennessey and some from another bottle)
  • 1/2 pint peach brandy
  • 1/2 pint Maraschino liqueur
  • 1 quart fresh-brewed green tea
  • 1 pint fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pound sugar

I’d like to try to make this in the future with some variations: black tea for green tea, slightly more lemon juice, replacing some or all of the sugar with some sort of homemade spicy sugar syrup, et cetera. Regardless, this is a great party punch that represents the fine human tradition of creating something amazing out of whatever ingredients are available. Enjoy it as a powerful social lubricant at your next gathering.

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