I was researching an article about punch for my column in Midwest Wine Connection and relied heavily on David Wondrich's A Brief History of Punch, as published in the first issue of Mixologist.
He explains that punch, an import from British-controlled India was, in the mid-17th century, the first major drinks craze in England that involved a distilled spirit. Distilled spirits, at least to Western Europeans, were still in their infancy and drinkers weren't quite sure what to do with them. "Strong waters" were known but regarded more as pharmaceuticals than beverages.
Punch changed all that. It caught on it a big way and was hugely popular for the next century or so, until eventually giving way to cocktails.
One trend from the same period, that didn't really catch on, is something he calls "needled beer." It was essentially ale of any sort, spiked with aqua vitae of any sort. This was, apparently, the drink of choice for only the lowest sorts.
Fortified wines, the ancestors of our modern sherries and ports, were known then, so fortified ale seems a natural, yet it never has caught on. In the modern era, there have been shot-and-a-beer types who pour the shot into the beer, but not a lot of them, and only the lowest sorts.