St. Barbara and the Artilleryman’s Punch

See more Writing


St. Barbara was the lovely daughter of a wealthy pagan back in the 3rd Century. Her father, who just sounds like a helluva guy, was so rich and she was so beautiful that he had her locked up in a tower when he would travel. On one such occasion, poor Barbara discovered religion, because, who wouldn’t really?

As legend tells us, Dad came home, and, having discovered Barbara’s new-found interest, ordered her to be tortured and killed. At this point you’re thinking, “Is this guy for real?”, and I have to tell you, it gets even better; Barbara’s dear old dad decided to do the beheading himself.   

But it’s not all bad news for Barbara — you know, despite the fact that she’s dead by her father’s hand — dad was struck by lightening and killed on his way home after doing the deed. Heck, for a while she was even the patron saint of protection from lightening storms and fire. A small consolation, to be sure.

Much later in history, when gunpowder was introduced to Western artillery, Barbara became the patron saint of protection from accidental explosions. I’d figure that a little Barbara figurine would be just the sort of talisman you’d want on your side when safety measures haven’t fully caught up to the recent advances in explosive technology.

And still to this day in some circles, on St. Barbara’s feast day in December, a meal is prepared and a peculiar concoction known as the Artilleryman’s Punch is served. Not to be confused for the booze explosion that is known as the Chatham Artillery Punch, a concoction our beloved historian David Wondrich describes as “utterly devastating”, the Artilleryman’s Punch is more about conviviality and less about getting… bombed.

I discovered the Artilleryman’s Punch years ago in the late, great Thomas Mario’s Playboy’s Host and Bar Book, and was always struck (lightening pun intended) by a punch that could be so complex in flavor, yet simple with its ingredient list and straightforward in preparation. One of my party punches of choice, the Artilleryman’s Punch has been so popular at my house that it would be unwarranted to wait until to December to serve this light, almost summery concoction. 

With some minor adjustments to the recipe (see below), the Artilleryman’s Punch is just the sort of thing when you need to — wait for it — keep your head about you.

You’re welcome.

Artillerymen’s Punch
Adapted from a recipe by Thomas Mario

1 liter bourbon (Mario recommends 86 proof whiskey, I like to take it down to 80 proof – Old Grandad is a good choice)
9 oz light rum (Puerto Rico is a good source for this)
4 oz dark Jamaican rum (Myers’s Dark is my go-to)
6 oz apricot brandy
12 oz lemon juice
24 oz orange juice
1 quart strong black tea
2 oz sugar

Pour all ingredients over a large block of ice in a punch bowl. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Let mixture ripen 1 hour in refrigerator before serving.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *