Fish House Punch: The holiday drink so strong it'll make you forget your mother-in-law

Fish House Punch: The holiday drink so strong it'll make you forget your mother-in-law
Photo by Jessica Bryce Young

During the holiday season, we always think of punch. There's no better signal of hospitality than the flowing bowl, nor is there a better system for making sure one's hosting duties don't keep one stuck behind the counter measuring and mixing individual cocktails for guests.

This month's Remix looks at a most venerable American drink: Philadelphia Fish House Punch. An 1881 New York Times article notes that the Schuylkill Fishing Club – a gentlemen's club devoted to fishing, smoking, and other manly pursuits – was formed in 1732. The earliest known reference to the club's lethal namesake beverage is in a letter sent in 1744, though by 1885, the effects of Fish House Punch were known widely enough to inspire this little bit of doggerel, published in a weekly magazine called The Cook:

"There's a little place just out of town,
Where, if you go to lunch,
They'll make you forget your mother-in-law
With a drink called Fish-House Punch."

The reason you'll forget your mother-in-law? This punch is ridiculously strong. It's all liquor with a bit of lemon juice and sugar; the only real dilution comes from the traditional 4-pound block of ice. (Alternatively, the amount of sugar in the original may induce diabetic blindness, another reason you might not recognize your MIL.)

If you, like me, do not own a vessel large enough to fit three gallons of punch and a 4-pound block of ice, and also are not at your holiday-party best after slugging a cup or two of straight liquor, this Remix is for you. I kept the lemon-and-sugar base and still used rum as the base spirit, but I swapped out some of the liquor for Earl Grey tea for a diluting element with its own unique bergamot aroma, and added some ginger to make the flavor profile more interesting.

Both recipes below are written to yield about a half-gallon, but punch is infinitely flexible. Substitute "part" for "pint" and use the recipes as proportional guidelines to make as much or as little as you like.


1/3 pint lemon juice

3/4 pound sugar 1 pint Jamaica rum

1 pint cognac

1 pint peach brandy

1 pint water, frozen

Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a large bowl and set aside until combined (a few hours). Place the ice in the bowl, then the rest of the ingredients, and stir to combine. Garnish with lemon slices.


4 ounces fresh lemon juice

4 ounces simple syrup

1 pint Earl Grey tea, brewed and chilled

1 pint amber rum (not spiced)

8 ounces brandy

4 ounces Domaine Canton ginger brandy

1 can of Barritt's ginger beer

lemon slices

cloves (optional)

First make a large chunk of ice by filling a Tupperware or the cut-off bottom of a milk carton with filtered water and freezing it overnight. Brew the tea and set aside to cool.

Combine the lemon juice and simple syrup in a large bowl, then add the ice. Add the tea, rum and brandy and stir to combine, then slowly pour in the ginger beer. Garnish with lemon slices (studded with whole cloves, if you like).

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