Gettin’ Jerry With It, Part III: Mississippi Punch

On February 7, 1882, a former hod-carrier and assistant plumber from Boston named John L. Sullivan met Paddy Ryan in a bareknuckle heavyweight bout in Mississippi City, Mississippi. Sullivan was a rising star in boxing–having gone pro in 1877 after knocking celebrated boxer Tom Scannel into the orchestra pit at Boston’s Dudley Street Opera House, and having scored a legendary knockout against John “Bull’s Head Terror” Flood during a match on a floating barge in the Hudson River just a year previous.

But in 1882, Ryan was the champ–until February 7. The fight, which had initially been scheduled to take place in New Orleans until the governor issued a proclamation against it, was a London Rules, $2,500 winner-take-all bout, and Sullivan owned it from the beginning. By the ninth round, Sullivan’s relentless attacks had withered Ryan’s defenses, and after a glancing right to the jaw, Ryan hugged the mat and Sullivan took the title (informal as it was in those days) of heavyweight champion of the world. It was a position he’d hold for the next ten years.

Bartenders in that era knew a thing or two about bareknuckle boxing. Ryan had first established his sparring reputation while running a saloon in upstate New York. And Sullivan had more than a passing knowledge of such places; he spent his teenage years looking for fights in Boston barrooms, and late in his life, he was fond of saying that the only fighter that ever beat him was whiskey. Indeed, many sportswriters of the era cited Sullivan’s indulgent lifestyle as a key factor in his 1892 loss of the championship to Jim Corbett.

Mississippi Punch is a bareknuckle bout in a glass. A solid four ounces of liquor goes into one glass of punch, with just a light touch of lemon and sugar to take the edge off. Despite its fearsome strength, Mississippi Punch is quite a tasty tipple–the blend of brandy, rum and bourbon roughhousing about in the glass, but still all working together, like the defensive line on a football team.

First appearing in print in Jerry Thomas’ landmark The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, Mississippi Punch is a formidable concoction, yet one worth getting to know. Just make sure you call it “sir.”

Mississippi Punch (Thomas’ recipe)

  • 1 wine-glass of brandy [2 ounces]
  • 1/2 do. Jamaica rum [1 ounce]
  • 1/2. do. Bourbon whiskey [1 ounce]
  • 1/2 do. water [ignore this if you like–your ice adds what you need]
  • 1 1/2 table-spoonful of powdered white sugar [do yourself a favor and cut this back to 2 teaspoons]
  • 1/4 of a large lemon [1/2 ounce]

Fill a tumbler with shaved ice.
The above must be well shaken, and to those who like their draughts “like linked sweetness long drawn out,” let them use a glass tube or straw to sip the nectar through. The top of this punch should be ornamented with small pieces of orange, and berries in season.

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