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Everything You Need to Know About Milk Punch

Milk Punch is having a moment right now. Well, the Clarified Milk Punch is, at least. Appearing on the menu of almost every single bar featured on North America’s 50 Best Bars list, clarified Milk Punches are beloved by bartenders and drinkers alike for their plethora of creamy flavors, elegant clear appearance, and easy-to-serve nature.

But while many are preoccupied with these cocktails of the clarified variety, they may be forgetting about the original style, which maintains a build much more true to its name. To learn more about the wonderful world of Milk Punches, we tapped Gareth Howells, the North American single malts ambassador for Bacardí USA.

The Origins of the Milk Punch

Milk Punches can be made two ways: New Orleans-style and English-style. Created sometime in the 1600s, the New Orleans-style Milk Punch — better known as a Bourbon or Brandy Milk Punch — is actually milk- or cream-based. The dairy product is sweetened and then spiked with booze and a dusting of spices like nutmeg or cinnamon. More filling than your average cocktail, New Orleans-style Milk Punch is often served in the colder months around the holidays.

Coincidentally, at the same time this creamy punch was gaining popularity in the colonies, there was a different style of the cocktail emerging just across the pond. The first mentions of the English-style Milk Punch, which we now know as the Clarified Milk Punch, date all the way back to 1688 when William Sacheverell mentioned the cocktail in his travelog from his time spent on the Scottish Isle of Iona. Just over two decades later, the first known recipe for the Clarified Milk Punch was recorded in a cookbook by Mary Rockett, which detailed the process of curdling, clarifying, and straining the drink’s ingredients to create a clear liquid. The drink immediately found public favor, and became a favorite of Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens, and even Queen Victoria, who made commercial producers Nathaniel Whisson & Co. the official purveyor of Milk Punch to Her Majesty. Fast forward to 2023, and the clarified cocktail has once again earned fascination from craft cocktail lovers.

How to Make New Orleans-Style Milk Punch

In the Milk Punch category, the New Orleans-style is certainly the most straightforward in terms of its preparation. While its origins trace back to the 1600s, Clarified Milk Punch rose in popularity in the American South thanks to Brennan’s, a French Quarter restaurant that’s been whipping it up for guests since the 1940s. While the New Orleans-style Milk Punch has yet to achieve the same degree of ubiquity as its clarified counterpart, the drink is still a popular choice for brunches or after-dinner imbibing.

Preparing this style of punch is as simple as it gets: Combine whole milk, bourbon or brandy, a sweetener like powdered sugar or simple syrup, vanilla extract, and ground nutmeg before shaking over ice. Once well combined, pour the mixture into an Old Fashioned glass — neat or over ice — and dust the top with cinnamon or nutmeg.

How to Make English-Style Milk Punch

In essence, the Clarified Milk Punch is exactly that: a varying combination of spirits, teas, botanicals, fruits, liquors, and milk that’s been clarified before serving, resulting in its crystal-clear appearance. Howell says mixologists use different approaches to achieve this clarified result.

“Two predominant ways we used to make Milk Punch, and still do today, are using the integral or non-integral break,” Howells explains. The integral break involves adding alcohol to a tea-and-milk mixture, allowing the liquid to curdle before straining to clarify it. The non-integral break adds milk that’s already been curdled, strained, and clarified to a mixture of liquor, fruit, teas, and botanicals.

The popularity of the English-style Milk Punch behind the bar stems, at least in part, from convenience. As it must be prepped before service — clarifying milk isn’t something even speedy bartenders can perform mid-shift — pre-batched Milk Punch can be served almost instantly during service thanks to its elongated shelf life. But despite the gastronomy involved, making Milk Punch isn’t just reserved for the professionals. While there are innumerable recipes available for at-home bartenders to make Milk Punch of their own, the beauty of the cocktail is its ability to be created and recreated depending on your flavor preferences or the ingredients you have on hand. Howells explains that the process of making Milk Punch can be followed by anyone with patience who is willing to take the time to follow instructions.

“The Milk Punch is more about following the steps, understanding the whys and hows of why the cocktail works,” he explains. And if you happen to mess it up, don’t fret. You can always rebreak your mixture by re-curdling and straining the mixture again until you achieve your desired result. Howells shares that he has had to rebreak some of his Milk Punches up to four times.

“Making this drink is just as much about making mistakes and figuring out how to rectify them as it is about doing it perfectly,” he stresses. “The Milk Punch is something that takes planning, but if you do it right, it really sets you apart from the crowd.”

The article Everything You Need to Know About Milk Punch appeared first on VinePair.

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