Behind the Drink: Fish House Punch

One of the most pleasant inebriants known to science

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 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.

Click here for the Fish House Punch Recipe

— David Wondrich,