The Punch and its ancestors: how to introduce it and use it in the service

A new article in collaboration between ebarman, Stir The Flow and Riccardo Marinelli.

We have already heard that Punch is considered as the primordial form of cocktail, or rather drink, and we believe that it is important to delve deeper into the subject so that our historical journey can begin; it is believed that the etymology of the word comes from the Hindu ”paunch” which meant ”five” that were the ingredients that formed it; ‘One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak, a dash of bitters and a sprinkle of spice, serve well chilled with plenty of ice’.

In fact, five are the main ingredients of Punch, as the Barbados Islands nursery rhyme says. This word could also be attributed to a short and robust 500 litre barrel style called ”Puncheon”. But we know that most of the people who started drinking Punches were sailors.

For almost 200 years, from 1612 to 1850, the Punch, served in bowls, were defined as the ancestors of the ”cocktail”, but these found their foundation in even earlier periods: The ancient Egyptians flavored their beers with dates, honey, citrus fruits and myrrh and the ancient Romans drank Hippocratic Wines (Hypocras) mixed with honey, herbs, roots and various spices.

We can therefore realize that man has always modified and enriched his wines or his beers and knew drinks served in bowls even before the invention of punch. From the Middle Ages onwards in the taverns of Europe it was customary to drink drinks such as ”Wassail”, ”Mulled”, ”Sangaree” which are nothing but fermented with the addition of honey, spices, fruit, and often fortified with brandy and served hot then kept on high heat and poured using long ladles.

In the mid-1600s the Punches made with Arrack from East India and Rum from West became the most socially consumed drinks. Punch was seen as a time to get together and share a moment and the owners of the Coffee Houses in London were attracted to the latter because it could be untaxed and being new was not part of the tax system.

The first historical reference is in fact a letter dated September 28, 1632, by Robert Addams wishing Thomas Colley a good trip to Bengal:  “I am very glad you have so good company to be with all as Mr. Cartwright.  I hope you will keep good house together and drinker punch by no allowance.” In any case, the letter did not define what punch was.

The first written definition of Punch, however, comes only six years later, when a young German, Albert de Mandelslo, arrives at a factory in Surat and tells of workers drinking ‘a kind of drink consisting in aqua vitae, rose water, juice of citrons and sugar’.

Thanks to these references we can get an idea and realize when the punch started to be consumed, but nobody knows who prepared the first ‘bowl’ of Punch, nor where.

And if we have no proof of the exact origins of punch, what we do know for sure is that English ships made virtues out of necessity, exchanging wine and beer for spirits during their voyages. The first was a matter of space, the rations were greater than the ships’ capacity, the second was storage. In fact, the sailors got sick because of the beers going bad, and even the wines were short-lived at tropical temperatures. The solution to scurvy was vitamin C, and therefore lime and lemons were guaranteed during the voyages, as well as sugar and spices were always present.

The conclusion is that we cannot guarantee any firm evidence of when Punch was born. Being the first written reference of 1632, we cannot go far back in time.

We do not even know who invented the first ‘punch’, the first archaic form of cocktail. Punch and Cocktail are two different things anyway and they travel on two different tracks throughout history. While Rum was being produced in English colonies and in its new discovered territories the Londoners were trying to buy the French Brandy to which they had been accustomed (and which later became popular) at all costs and meanwhile the nation was conducting its constant wars against France and Spain; but when the ships left from the Caribbean, as William Dampier wrote in 1697, ‘’they were always well stored with rum, sugar and lime juice to make punch, to hearten their men when they are at work’’. The British Navy’s reputation as ”original rum mixers” dates back to 1731 when the Navy Board, recognizing the value of rum as a long-standing commodity, rationed sailors half a pint (crikey) of rum per day which was known as ”Pusser’s Rum” from Purser, the person responsible for issuing rum every day.  The ships of the navy travel from port to port supplying the holds with rum and local products.

‘’It took nine years and 1642 pints of rum for sailor for the navy to realize it may be a good idea to dilute rations’’. And so, in 1740, Admiral Vernon ordered the dilution of rum with lime and sugar to inhibit drunkenness (laying the foundations for the Daiquiri recipe).

What is certain is that the Punch saved the lives of many sailors, caused the death of many others, and that ‘on land’, ‘the flowing bowl’ created havoc. In the colonies, on the other hand, Punch, more accessible, was the popular drink, while the ‘gentlemen’ drank French wine.

Originally produced in 1730 by a series of Philadelphia colonials as a liquid fortification served in their private river fishing club known as the Schuylkill Republic – or “The Fish House” – Fish House Punch has warmed the hearts of America’s most civilized hearts for 280 years.

Fish House Punch is the oldest original cocktail recipe in the country. It has been called a “secret of the world’s oldest dining room” that “has never been revealed” (New York Times) and one of the secrets of the world’s most carefully preserved drink recipes (WSJ). But its recipe is no longer a secret.


1 cup of sugar

4 lemons, peeled and reserved skins

4 cups of black tea (or water)

1 cup of lemon juice

4 cups of rum, Jamaican

2 cups of cognac

1/2 cup of peach brandy

Gasket:  lemon wheels and freshly grated nutmeg.


In a large bowl add sugar and lemon peel and rub together to release the citrus oils into the sugar. (This is called oleo-saccharum.)

Leave the oleo-saccharum to infuse for at least 30 minutes.

Dissolve the sugar with hot water or tea.

Add rum, cognac, lemon juice and peach brandy and stir to mix.

Add a block of ice to cool and continue adding small pieces of ice for the desired dilution.

Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and lemon wheels.

Until 1850 it was the most consumed drink, but consumption itself took people time to consume and 1900 brought with it the industries and communications improvements that took people’s time and consequently the ritual of punch.

The bowls, like the moments, were put aside and so the punch ritual became ceremonial in virtue of the fact that industrialization led to the production of better spirits and consequently not having to correct them to make them more complete.

In 1887 punch found its evolution and it was decided to develop a faster and on demand way to produce and the service of the punch, but no longer for groups of people, but individually creating a concept of exclusivity that was already used in many bars in New York in 1806, but that had never been globalized.

Jerry Thomas became the pioneer of “Fancy” mixing, making Brandy Punch the most popular drink to sip in America.

The popularity of the drink was obviously due to the popularity of Brandy in that period and with the passing of time and the arrival of other distillates on the market the ”Fancy drink” had its evolution.

In modern mixing the Punch can be a solution to reduce waste to a minimum and be much more sustainable inside the bar, for example when citrus peels are outlined with a knife to create a more fancy garnish all the parts that are usually thrown away can be stored and used for the creation of the oleo saccharum and also composing a punch and bottling it can make a much faster and more versatile service.

In the last decade many new techniques, such as Clarified Milk Punch, have been known and developed, centrifuges may have simplified the task, but separating milk solids from liquid is not an invention of today; Clarified Milk Punch is crystal clear, intensely flavourful and silky, dating back to 18th century England and colonial America, Clarified Milk Punch is slowly regaining popularity in cocktail menus making the menu look more like a scientific project than mixing a cocktail.

The introduction of advanced techniques today, as well as in the 18th century, were born from man’s need to evolve and adapt to change, but we will talk about this in the next future.

Thanks for the collaboration of ebarman and Riccardo Marinelli