Make 18th-Century Punch

Duration: 5 minutes for prep
Recommended Ages: Adults only
Serving Size: Makes 2 6 fl. oz. servings
Description: Spice up your virtual Happy Hour with this tasty punch cocktail recipe.

Colonial Cocktails

Alcohol formed an important part of social interactions in 18th-century America (and Europe).  In fact, there were drinks available for all people, no matter how much or little money they had.  Colonists usually had a drink in hand as they celebrated, mourned, or participated in everyday interactions.   Even voting and other political activities often involved alcohol.

One of the most common tipples was punch, a mixture of alcohol, water, sugar, and citrus.  When wealthy men made punch, they commonly used what George Mason called “West India Spirits” (today’s rum).  Mason, himself, preferred a pared-down version of this popular drink. Known as Toddy, Mason’s favorite left out the citrus juice. 

The wealthiest families, like the Masons, probably served punch out of a beautiful, and highly decorative, ceramic bowl like this one. Punch for most Virginians came in more functional earthenware or stoneware containers.
"A Cock and Bull Story" reflects to the close and convivial nature of punch parties in the 18th century. "A cock and bull story", Robert Sayer, 1793. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Many historical documents mention punch: from journals and diaries, to letters and tavern advertisements, we can see the popularity of the beverage.  Drinkers most often shared a large bowl of the stuff, either ladling out individual cups or taking turns sipping straight from the bowl. You might be able to picture the scene at a large social event.  Imagine all the men offering toasts and then quaffing punch from a large bowl as they passed it around. 

Images of punch parties show the drinkers sitting close to one another, indicating their camaraderie and fellowship.  Diaries and newspaper articles share that these social drinking occasions often signaled the successful conclusion of business or government.  We can picture George Mason relaxing with his compatriots in Williamsburg or Philadelphia, sharing ideas about government over glasses of punch.

Bombay Presidency Punch

If any man comes into a victualling house to drink punch, he may demand one quart good Goa arak, half a pound of sugar and half a pint of good lime water; and make his own punch.  If the bowl be not marked with the clerk of the market’s seal, then the bowl may be freely broken without paying anything either for bowl or punch.

Order Book of the Bombay Government, August 13, 1694. As quoted in Wondrich, David. Punch, 2010.

Recipe Adaptation

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes

2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp  lime or lemon juice
1/2 cup rum
3/4 cups water

  1. In a non-reactive bowl or pitcher, mix together the sugar and the juice and stir until dissolved.  (Please use a glass, pottery, or stainless steel bowl or pitcher. Copper, cast iron, and aluminum will react with the acid in the lemon juice.)
  2. Remove any seeds that may have made their way into the bowl.  Blend in the rum, and then the water.
  3. Add ice.  Then grate nutmeg over the top.
  4. Enjoy your tipple!