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Behind the Drink: Fish House Punch

Contributed by

We’ve all heard of people seceding because of a desire for liberty, a deep political grievance or out of a sense of ethnic solidarity. Understandable, if sometimes wrongheaded or unwise. But what about seceding just for fun?

That’s what happened on May 1, 1732, when a bunch of prosperous Quakers from Philadelphia, the chief settlement of the Pennsylvania Colony, leased a little property from the Lenni-Lenape tribe. There, on the banks of the Schuylkill River a few miles upstream from the city, they built a clubhouse—a castle, they called it—and promptly declared themselves the Colony in Schuylkill, an independent entity with its own governor, lieutenant governor, councilmen, coroner and sheriff.


In 1782, in keeping with the times, the group shook off the “Colony” and became the State in Schuylkill. It’s had to move a couple times since, but as far as one can tell (its affairs are kept very quiet), the club is still going strong in its current castle, just outside Philadelphia on the Delaware.

The purpose of all this political business? Fishing. Well, that and barbecuing. And, of course, drinking. In the 18th century, it was customary for a gentlemen’s social organization of this character to carouse a fair bit. The fuel for this carousing was invariably a large bowl of punch. Every club had its own version, most of which have been lost to history. But not the recipe the State in Schuylkill always served at its “Fish House,” as the castle was informally named. Since at least 1794 (the earliest mention we have of it), the concoction has been pretty much the same: lemon juice, sugar, rum, cognac and old-school peach brandy—a high-proof, dry, barrel-aged brandy distilled from peaches, as opposed to a sticky-sweet peach-flavored liqueur.

There’s a reason for this longevity: Fish House Punch is one of the most pleasant inebriants known to science. Definitely worth seceding over.

Fish House Punch

Contributed by David Wondrich


  • Peels of 8 lemons
  • 2.5 cups demerara sugar
  • 16 oz boiling water
  • 16 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 (750-mL) bottle Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica rum (or other strong, pungent Jamaican rum)
  • 12 oz VSOP cognac
  • 12 oz real peach brandy*
  • 3 qt (96 oz) cold water
  • Garnish: Grated nutmeg
    Glass: Punch

At least a day ahead, fill a 2-quart bowl with water and freeze until completely solid. In a large punch bowl, muddle the lemon peels and sugar. Let the mixture stand for at least 3 hours. Add the boiling water, stirring until as much as possible of the sugar has dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. To serve, add the ice block and garnish liberally with freshly grated nutmeg. This recipe serves 25.

*For the first time in decades, old-fashioned barrel-aged peach brandy is available, from Old World Spirits in California or Dutch’s Spirits in New York. It’s pricey, but it really makes this punch. If you can’t get it, substitute 8 ounces of Laird’s Applejack and 4 ounces of imported peach liqueur.

David Wondrich is the author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl and Esquire magazine’s drinks correspondent. He is also a Liquor.com advisor.

Locations: 504 Philadelphia
Brands: Smith & Cross
Series & Type: HistoryBehind the Drink
Appears in 9 Collections

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