Fish House Punch
The rumors are true.
I seem to have discovered the secret recipe to Fish House Punch, America’s oldest original cocktail. And I sometimes host gatherings where a lucky few get to taste it.
The Racquet Club of Philadelphia tasting
The Famous Secret
The Discovery / The Memo
The Fish House Punch recipe has remained a secret ever since it was created circa 1732 by members of a private society in Pennsylvania. Now, over 280 years later, a handful of fortunate cocktail aficionados are joining the ranks of those who’ve enjoyed Fish House Punch made from the genuine, ancestral recipe.
Like all good dramas, Fish House Punch Evenings consist of three acts:
the rollicking story of the fabled punch
the no-less rollicking story of how I stumbled across the previously undiscovered recipe
many swigs of the mysterious Fish House Punch itself
The Oldest American Secret You Can Drink
In the course of my quest for America’s cultural treasures, I inadvertently discovered one of the country’s most closely-guarded culinary secrets: the recipe for the celebrated and mysterious Fish House Punch.
Originally brewed in the 1730s by a slew of Philadelphia colonials as a liquid fortification served up at their private riverside fishing club know as the Republic of Schuylkill—or “The Fish House”—Fish House Punch has warmed the cockles of America’s most civilized hearts for 280 years. Presidents and statesmen have thirsted for the chance to be admitted to the guarded precincts of the Fish House, just for a chance to quaff the secret elixir.
Fish House Punch is the country’s oldest original cocktail recipe. It has been called a “secret of the oldest dining club in the world” that “never has been revealed” (New York Times), and one of the most carefully kept beverage-recipe secrets in the world (WSJ). But its recipe is a secret no more.
Rifling through a repository of rare historical materials recently, at a location I will not disclose, I came across a personal holiday memorandum of a rather dignified American personage from many years ago. Consisting of three neat sentences of seasonal greeting and then an additional brace of lines detailing a handful of ingredients and measurements—demarcated in quarts and pounds rather than ounces and grams (Fish House Punch is apparently a convivial brew meant to be served in volume)—the document disclosed the heretofore undisclosed recipe of the secret elixir.
Dubbed “one of the world’s most powerful concoctions” (Vintage Cocktails), Fish House Punch is credited with an array of salutary benefits—not the least of which is the famed longevity of those who consume it. Fish House club members are famous not just for having a very old club, but for becoming very old themselves, and maintaining unusual degrees of youthful vigor. Robert Wharton, the club’s third governor, enlisted as a private in the War of 1812... at the age of 57.
One observer, writing about the Republic of Schuylkill in 1905, wrote that “the belief has always existed... that there is something in the atmosphere of the club conducive to long life.” Hmm, I wonder what that “something” is. Punch, perhaps?
Over the years, many an apocryphal recipe has popped up, only to have its purported pedigree prove counterfeit. Featuring spurious formulae and fraudulent claims about the inclusion of things like exotic garnish (how garish!), they likely triggered more than a few outbursts of “balderdash” from Those Who Know.
Finding himself in the remarkable position of being one of the few people on earth who possessed the actual formula for this storied potion, the author of the memo that I discovered took a moment to acknowledge the solemnity of the occasion. As he puts it, there was
not an insignificant amount of cloak and dagger espionage required to
“liberate the recipe for the famous punch” from where it had been kept
sealed up for centuries—within the hearts of its members and the four walls of its clubhouse, the Fish House... the Fort Knox of Aperitifs. Indeed, his note is the first—and only—instance of the recipe being spirited away, in written form, from within the confines of the fabled Fish House.
The discoverer of secrets finds himself in a rather interesting pickle. To disclose, or not to disclose? A world where all secrets are revealed is a dreary world indeed. Venerable and ancient secrets add a frisson of hidden electricity to life and are one of the ways we connect to the dead—by keeping what they kept.
The Fish House is no longer perched on the banks of the Schuylkill. But the legend lives on. The secret of this magical concoction has lasted 280 years. And it will last a few more. Because I don’t intend to reveal it. Out of respect for the founders of that Pennsylvania riverbank angling sect, I will keep the secret. However, while it is true that I will not dispel the magic by unveiling the recipe, I will democratize the magic by sharing the delicious and enchanting elixir that comes from adhering to the recipe’s dictates! Enjoy. It’s the oldest American secret you can drink.
Yours in the pursuit of America’s treasures,
FISH HOUSE PUNCH
A secret older than the United States