The more things change…. (ode to the Fish House Punch)

1732 Philadelphia: A gentlemen’s boating club on the Schuylkill River is planning its annual Christmas party. For the first time in its history ladies will be welcome. Colonial America is a drinking culture and cocktails are a mid-19th century invention. Punch will be served. To commemorate the occasion these gentlemen decide to invent a new punch. Per the minutes of the meeting, the goal was “to make the ladies more convivial than is their usual wont.” Thus, the Fish House Punch–an excellent (or disgusting) combination of rum, Cognac, peach brandy, lemon juice, sugar water, and cold strong black tea.

2016 Charleston: A few weeks ago a colleague and I were double dating with our wives. After seeing a show at the Charleston Music Hall, we headed to the Darling Oyster for snacks and drinks. My colleague just celebrated his fifth anniversary–which, by my old-married standards, makes him a newlywed. Still both of us were plying our wives with alcohol. The goal: get them sufficiently liquored-up to lower inhibitions but not so intoxicated that they fall asleep immediately upon arriving home. Thus I introduced my friend’s wife to the Fish House Punch.

I’d prefer to think that there is a big difference between a gentleman plying his spouse with a bit of alcohol and a stranger roofieing a woman’s drink at a bar; however, I admit it could simply be a matter of degree. Every time I order Fish House Punch, or convince a female colleague to drink one, I reflect upon those Colonial Philadelphia gentleman. Attempts to “make the ladies more convivial than is their usual wont” have probably existed since man first discovered alcohol.  After 25+ years of marriage, I still understand the impulse. Dress this desire in florid language and aristocratic dress and it comes off as charming and a bit rakish. Antics that were vaguely comic almost three hundred years ago are possibly criminal today. The culture evolves rapidly; biology much more slowly.

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