Punch Week: The Orange Billy Punch Recipe

Punch Week: The Orange Billy Punch Recipe

Punch Week: The Orange Billy Punch Recipe

This week, we’re familiarizing ourselves with the cocktail’s predecessor, punch. We’re not talking about the jungle juice served from a trash can to a solo cup at your first college party, but a mellow blend of spirit, citrus, spice, and sugar that ruled the drinking world of the 18th century. In our tour of punches, David Wondrich and his aptly named book Punch are our guides. If you want to know more about punch in general, check out our introductory post.

Today, we’re taking advantage of the basically opportunistic quality of punches. Sure, tried and true recipes are great; and you don’t get anything more tried and true than a recipe created a couple of hundred years ago. But what if you can’t get your hands on all of the ingredients? A punch must still be had. Wondrich quotes a 17th century punch maker recommending, ‘a little Vinegar or Verjuice or Limon Juice or Lime Juice, which of them you can get‘ [emphasis mine].  It’s important that a punch has something sour. It’s ideal for that sour to come from lemons. But if lemons aren’t available, but vinegar is, give that a try.

I tried a much less dramatic substitution than that in one of my first punch experiences. I wasn’t surprised that the substitution worked; I was surprised by just how much difference a small substitution made, while still making for a successful punch.

I made Billy Dawson’s punch on a weekend away with friends. It was my first time making punch for a group, and I wasn’t prepared for just how big a hit it would be. The next day, the group called for a second bowl, but we were out of lemons. We did, however, have plenty of oranges. If that’s not a case of ‘which of them you can get,’ I don’t know what is. The orange version of billy had a more velvety flavor than the original lemon. We added a little cinnamon along with the nutmeg. To switch things up, we served this one cold, while the original Billy was hot. It’s possible that it would have been even better if we’d done the original cold and the orange version warm, but both worked as we served them.

By the way, most punches can be served either hot or cold, with a couple of simple adjustments:

  1. Hot punches call for a bit more sugar;
  2. With a hot punch, add the spirit before the water, so that the drink is as hot as possible when served; with a cold punch, add the water first, because cold water dissolves sugar better than cold spirits.

The Orange Billy Punch Recipe

makes 8 to 10 servings


  • 10 ounces Jamaican rum
  • 5 oz VSOP Cognac–we like Maison Rouge, if you can find it. It’s an exceptional value for a genuine VSOP Cognac, good enough to sip and great for mixing.
  • 1 oz Batavia arrack–this is not the anise flavor liqueur popular in the Middle East, but a sort of older cousin to rum. We’ll talk about it more in our post on the Bombay Presidency punch. For now, if you can’t find Batavia arrack, use cachaca.
  • 3 oz good porter or stout ale
  • 3 oz orange juice
  • The peel of 2 oranges–just the zest, in big strips. Avoid as much as the white pith as you can.
  • 4 oz demerara sugar
  • 20 oz water
  • grated nutmeg and cinnamon


  • In a large punch bowl, muddle the sugar and the orange peels thoroughly.
  • Add the water, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the orange juice, rum, Cognac, rum, arrack, and ale.
  • Add a big block of ice, if it’ll be dispensed slowly; add small ice cubes if it’ll all be served immediately.
  • Grate nutmeg and cinnamon over the top.
  • Serve.

Roberts & June