A Brief History of the Dangerously Boozy Chatham Artillery Punch
We love punch. Not the sugary-sweet, bright red bowlfuls leering at you from across the room at a college party, but the boozy, balanced brews of yesteryear—punches with history. And there’s no more notorious punch than the Chatham Artillery Punch.
In the mid-1850s, the Chatham Artillery—an elite militia organization from Savannah, Georgia—were visited by the Republican Blues, a fellow fraternal organization. Both groups were well known for their merrymaking, so party times were inevitable. The Chatham Artillery commissioned local patriot and hotelkeeper A.C. Luce to concoct a stiff punch for the gathering. Luce filled horse buckets with crushed ice before adding copious amounts of rum, cognac, bourbon, lemons, sugar and a topper of Champagne. Luce was not messing around. Legend has it, not a man was standing by the end of the party.
The punch was an instant hit, but it remained relatively unknown to those outside the Artillery until a group of Southern journalists arrived in Savannah for a conference. They were treated to the concoction while on a riverboat cruise and were instantly consumed by the punch’s magic. They returned to their respective homes and began spreading the word, along with a multitude of recipe variations.
One of the most famous variations comes from 1900, when war hero George Dewey visited Savannah to attend a parade in his honor. The night before the parade, he drank a take on the punch that was said to contain a gallon of Catawba wine, a quart of rum, four cans of sliced pineapples, the juice of 30 lemons, three oranges, one bottle of maraschino cherries and four bottles of Champagne. Needless to say, Dewey surrendered to the punch, but out of respect for the national hero, journalists who were present for Dewey’s inebriated evening attributed his state to indigestion from a bad salad. Luckily, he still made it to the parade in one piece, greeted by a roaring applause and cannon fire (which, for Dewey, was probably very unpleasant). And his drink of choice went down in history, renamed Admiral Dewey’s Artillery Punch in his honor.
These days, the most commonly seen Chatham Artillery Punch incarnation is much sweeter and tamer. Some say it is because later generations couldn’t handle the boozier version. David Wondrich even quoted a note from the 1907 recipe in his book Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl that reads, “Its vigor in those days was much greater than at present, experience having taught the rising generation to modify the receipt of their forefathers to conform to the weaker constitutions of their progeny.” Not to be insulted by our forefathers, we decided to make the original recipe in the Supercall office and we definitely recommend serving it at your next party. Just make sure to warn your guests of its exceptional strength.
Chatham Artillery Punch
2 cups light raw sugar
750 ml bottle VSOP cognac
750 ml bottle bourbon
750 ml bottle Jamaican rum
3 750 ml bottles Champagne or dry sparkling wine, chilled
- Peel the lemons carefully to remove only the yellow peel and not the white pith. Firmly muddle peels with the sugar. Cover and set aside for at least an hour to let the flavors meld.
- While the peels are resting, juice the lemons. Add 2 cups of lemon juice to the peel mixture and stir until the sugar dissolves. Strain the mixture into an empty bowl or bottle.
- To serve, fill a horse bucket or punch bowl with ice and pour in the oleo-saccharum. Add the cognac, bourbon and rum.
- Top off with Champagne. Stir and serve.