Down South: An Antebellum Punch for the Holidays

Robyn Lee

As Roderick Hale Weaver, the bartender at Husk restaurant, tells it, the members of Charleston's 19th-century Light Dragoon militia were more socialites than soldiers. "They would ride around and get hammered," he says. "And one of the penalties for breaking the rulesgetting too drunk and falling off your horse, or whateverwas bringing food and drink to the rest of the company."

The Light Dragoons have long since disbanded. Their records have been filed away in the archives of the Charleston Historical Society, where local tour guide and historian Greg Barrow first read about the once-famous Light Dragoon's Punch. Often provided as penance by trouble-making members, it was the drink of choice whenever the company gathered.

Barrow went looking for the ingredients and, eventually, found a friend who recognized the punch from an old cookbook. The two located the recipe and Barrow, a Husk regular, took it to Weaver.

"It looked like an awesome recipe," Weaver says. "And I wanted to stay as close to the original punch as possible. So I investigated what would have been available at that time. They would have been using Barbados rum, or Bermuda rum. They would have been using California brandy, because it would have been cheaper to get brandy from California than from France or wherever else." In pursuit of historical accuracy, Weaver also ordered tea leaves from the nearby Charleston Tea Plantation, the only working tea plantation in the United States.

Today, the antique punch is one of the most consistently popular drinks at Husk, one of only two that has remained on the menu while plenty of other drinks have come and gone around it. Whether you need to atone for a social faux pas or want to entertain your guests in old Charleston style, it will be a welcome presence in a punch bowl this holiday season. Be sure your guests are thirsty, because this recipe makes a lot.