Alcoholic punch has suffered a bit of a dip in popularity, and by bit of a dip we mean its popularity almost completely evaporated since its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries. The invention of the cocktail eclipsed the punchbowl, although invention is a generous word, since cocktails are basically personal punches. So what they really did was make punch smaller.
Now punch is getting bigger again (which is a great pun and you should be proud of us for it), and since it is, we decided to find some recipes to help you have a punch party your ancestors would be proud of.
Martha Washington Punch
Almost every time we talk about alcohol in American history, we come back to George Washington and his lovely wife. We don’t have a problem with that, since we already thought of the guy as a role model. This just adds another layer to it.
The Washingtons loved their alcohol and they loved to entertain, so when those two loves naturally came together, Martha Washington would often keep her guests agreeable with a bowl of punch. Undoubtedly she had a number of recipes at her disposal, but only one has her name on it now, so that’s the one we’ve included.
It has everything you’d expect of a punch of the time, doubling down on rum, mixing in some Grand Marnier, throwing in some citrus and sugar, and topping it off with some nutmeg and citrus garnish. But if you don’t feel like making it yourself, it is available as a cocktail at Forty Four, the bar in Manhattan’s Royalton Hotel. Still, make the nation’s mother proud and mix it yourself.
The Green Beast
Absinthe’s become something of a legend in the United States, with everyone of every age talking about how intoxicating it’s rumored to be, especially absinthe of the European variety. There’s also the part of the legend where Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and co. would drink the stuff like it was water or, more appropriately, alcohol in the ’20s.
If you and some friends feel like finding out if the legend is true, mix yourself up a bowl of this. We’re not guaranteeing any results beyond getting a good buzz, but if you feel like you can bang out the next great American novel halfway through the night, we’re not going to stop you. Just get a good editor.
USS Richmond Punch
We’re not sure what it is about sailors that makes them one of history’s most prolific drinkers, but it’s almost impossible to find an intoxicating beverage that naval forces haven’t messed around with and tossing a whole bunch of alcohol in a giant bowl is no exception.
The punch is named after one of the longest serving vessels in the Navy’s history, seeing action in multiple locations during the Civil War, including, among others, chasing a Confederate raider through the Caribbean, participating in the Mississippi River blockade, and helping capture New Orleans. The Richmond also went to the Mediterranean to protect U.S. citizens potentially endangered by the Franco-Prussian war, served in the West Indies Squadron, and was the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. Presumably, the crew was drinking literally the whole time.
What stands out about this punch is the intimidating strength of it, kind of like cartoon sailors, come to think of it. There are four different forms of strong liquor present in it, dark rum, Cognac, ruby port, and Grand Marnier, all four not known for their subtlety. There’s also the option to add Champagne instead of club soda, in case you wanted to guarantee your party guests to black out for a straight week.
The Irish have been making alcohol for a long time, so naturally they’re going to have their own interpretation of punch. Different forms show up in their literature and music pretty consistently, meaning you don’t have to look far for an interesting recipe. This Gaelic Punch is simple, but better saved for colder weather, as it’s meant to be served hot. In fact, it’s very similar to the classic Hot Toddy, incorporating nutmeg, sugar, water, Irish whiskey, and lemon zest. So there’s an argument to be made about its medicinal properties as well.
It’s also easy to imagine a few early 20th century, lower middle class to middle class Dubliners sitting around a living room with a bowl of this in the middle, trading stories and secrets and toasting to the good times they imagine are ahead. Don’t tell them it doesn’t start to really look better until the late ’90s.
Our first punch relies heavily on rum, as you’d expect for a centuries-old punch recipe from Jamaica. Back then, it started as a simple drink for simple people, being mostly a mix of rum, citrus juice, sugar, spice, and ice, from wherever Jamaicans got ice. It’s changed in years since, becoming more complicated and containing more ingredients, even having a name swap here and there, but never forgetting to put rum in it.
For this one, since it comes from such a long line of rum experimentation, we’re including the recipe as more of a suggestion than a steadfast set of rules. If people spent two or three hundred years already messing with something, there’s pretty much no way you substituting ingredients is going to hurt it. If you don’t like pineapple, put in regular apple. Not a fan of lime? Use lemon or orange. There’ve been so many different kinds of this punch that you shouldn’t feel any loyalty to any ingredients. Besides the rum.
Boston Club Punch
This punch is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not from a club in Boston. Rather, it’s the standard drink of the Boston Club in New Orleans. The club was founded as an exclusive gathering of secretive old guys who wanted to play cards without poor people messing everything up. It’s still around today and just as secretive, so not a whole lot is known about the club. In fact, we’re not even sure how the recipe for this punch got out. It could be a covert and sinister attempt to poison everyone who mixes the punch, but looking at the ingredients, it definitely seems like the kind of drink chuckling old dudes in a smoke filled room would drink.
We’re recommending this punch less as a thing to be proud of and more of a general way to stick it to those pretentious secret society types. Chances are, most of us don’t come from a lineage involved in those groups, so this is our opportunity for a little bit of rebellion.
Fish House Punch Jelly
We’ve covered Philadelphia Fish House Punch before, but this one is slightly but notably different. College house parties, it’s regularly assumed, involve some form of easy alcohol delivery, which makes sense, since most college students evaluate the quality of the drink based on whether or not you can taste alcohol. It’s why Jell-O shots are so common. You inhale something that completely masks alcohol.
But 19th century Americans were doing tons of jelly shots and most of them didn’t even go to college. Their jelly shots were a little different though, in that Fish House Punch is one of the most densely alcoholic drinks known to man. They weren’t trying to hide the alcohol, they were trying to make it bite-sized.