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Cocktail History in America: The Punch Bowl (Pre-1806)

The guide includes information about materials in the History of Food & Drink Collection relating to cocktail history in America and related food, social, domestic, and economic history. It also has tools and resources for completing historical research.

A Bowl, Full of Punch History

The cocktail's roots are in a communal tradition: the punch bowl. By the traveling the globe in exploration, had a pretty great concoction going. A combination of spirits, sugar, water, citrus, and spices, "punch" was something that could be made in any port and on board just about any ship that was transporting goods from the East Indies (and later, the West Indies/Caribbean, depending on the century or your preference for terminology). Beer went flat in the hot temperatures, but just about anywhere a ship landed, there was a local spirit made from some ingredient (sugar, rice, fruit, etc.), a form of citrus on hand, and some new spice to try. Sailors brought this concept home and punches gained popularity in Europe and eventually in America. 

A punch originally included only five ingredients, which varied by location and availability: spirits, sugar, water, citrus, and spice. However, in the nearly three centuries since it took hold, the definition, the ingredients, and the making of punches have continued to expand.

Suggested Books & Manuscripts in Special Collections


Suggested Readings (Beyond Special Collections)

  • Wondrich, David. Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing BowlTarcherPerigee, 2010. 
  • You can also find classic American punch recipes in many 19th, 20th, and 21st century cookbooks and recipe books, both handwritten and printed. 

Online Resources

  • The Food Timeline: Wine & Beer. Also includes a general history of drinking and beverages in America, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. 

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