The Southerner's Handbook

How to Mix a Stiff Punch

Mississippi’s bourbon punch

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

Mississippi Punch might have earned its name for its constituent cognac, which would have floated up the river from French Louisiana. Then again, perhaps the moniker derives from the bourbon. “We drink a lot of bourbon in Mississippi,” says Bert Smythe, co-owner of McEwen’s, in Oxford, and Alchemy, Memphis’s first dedicated craft cocktail bar. But the drink’s true origins are as clear as its third spirit: dark rum. “We have no clue,” Smythe concedes. What’s certain about the punch—a dusky brown-liquor-and-black-tea concoction first described in legendary barman Jerry Thomas’s 1862 Bon Vivant’s Companion—is that it’s “a little stout.” Which is why Smythe served bowlfuls of it to celebrate Alchemy’s first anniversary last fall. By the end of the night, everyone felt like a bon vivant.


  • Mississippi Punch

    • 1 1/2 cups raw sugar

    • 1 quart black tea

    • 1 quart bourbon

    • 2 cups dark rum

    • 2 cups cognac

    • 1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice

    • 1 1/2 quarts water

    • Nutmeg


  1. Dissolve the sugar in the tea, then combine all ingredients in a large punch bowl, add a large block of ice, and allow to chill. Grate nutmeg over top, and serve in small punch cups.

Cocktail recipe from Bert Smythe of McEwen’s in Oxford, Mississippi and Alchemy in Memphis, Tennessee