The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Properly Sauced: Fish House Punch

By Rob Christopher in Food on Dec 16, 2009 8:20PM

photo by liza31337

The holidays mean parties, and (if you're smart) parties mean a punchbowl. As a host, who wants to spend the latter part of the evening rooting around in the pantry trying to figure out how to make a palatable drink from the vodka, peppermint schnapps and diet tonic water that are leftover after the "good stuff" is gone? Not us. No sir, a punchbowl is the way to go. It requires a little setup time, but once it's prepared you can back away and concentrate on mingling.

Relax: Fish House Punch does not feature chopped halibut. It gets its name from the oldest club in America, the Schuylkill Fishing Company, and has been served since at least 1732. The Founding Fathers likely had more than a sip or two, in fact. Eric Felten recounts this venerable beverage's history in a fascinating article, writing

The first mention of Fish House Punch -- though not yet by that name -- may be in the notes of William Black, the secretary of an embassy of Virginia Commissioners who visited Philadelphia in 1744. He recounted being met by local poobahs on the bank of the Schuylkill, where they were greeted "very kindly and welcomed . . . into their Province with a Bowl of fine Lemon Punch big enough to have Swimmed half a dozen of young Geese."

Naturally there are scores of recipes floating around out there. The legendary Professor Jerry Thomas even included one in his bartender's guide (wryly noting that one punchbowl "is generally sufficient for one person.") The recipe below is the one we've always used. It's dynamite for New Year's Eve gatherings. Though please note our concluding caveat.

Fish House Punch

1 cup sugar
3½ cups cold water
1½ cups fresh lemon juice (6 to 8 large lemons)
1 (750-ml) bottle gold rum
12 oz Cognac or brandy (1½ cups)
2 oz peach brandy (¼ cup)

The day before your party, combine sugar and water in a pitcher and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add Cognac and peach brandy and stick the pitcher in the fridge. When it's party time, add contents of pitcher to punchbowl along with remaining ingredients. Add several large chunks of ice to punchbowl just before serving. Garnish with lemon slices if you're feeling fancy.

A quality peach brandy can be awfully hard to find. Mathilde Peche Peach Liqueur is an excellent substitute. You can usually find it at Binny's.

Warning: this is a potent punch. You'll want to use cocktail-sized serving glasses as a way of helping to moderate your guests' intake. Although some would cry "heresy" we also believe that it's perfectly acceptable to dilute the punch with a portion of lemon sparkling water, with more on the side to encourage hydration. That way your friends with be jolly but not fishy about the gills the next day.