Back when he was the general manager of Betony in New York City, Eamon Rockey was known for sharing his love for a largely forgotten historical cocktail: milk punch. “I was making the stuff for 12 years, and I feel like nobody in the world has made as much of it as I have, at least nobody alive,” he says.
If you’ve never tried it, clarified milk punch is an absolute revelation. First off, it’s visually striking with a crystal-clear profile despite being made from milk; it also imparts a unique texture, as well as a framework that can work with a multitude of flavors.
When Betony closed at the end of 2016, Rockey began evaluating assorted bar and restaurant opportunities. But nothing pulled him in quite the way milk punch did. He became so entranced with the drink that he started leading classes and seminars on the subject.
Eamon Rockey (image: Signe Birck)
“I would say that it became my religion,” says Rockey. He could recite its history on demand, explaining that its likely origins were at the hands of English poet and playwright Aphra Behn in the mid-to-late 1600s. Later, Benjamin Franklin developed his own recipe for the stuff.
The deeper down the milk punch rabbit hole Rockey traveled, the more the inevitable became clear to him. Two years after Betony closed, he released Rockey’s Milk Punch. “Oh man, it took so much longer than I thought it would,” he says. The product debuted last summer and is currently available in California, Florida, New Jersey and New York.
Rockey’s Milk Punch is a clarified milk punch, a category of drinks that at its root level combines a spirit with citrus, tea and milk. The citrus curdles the milk to clarify it, while the spirit provides fortification and stabilization.
The drink is bottled at 12 percent ABV and is designed to showcase a fruit-forward and perhaps deceptively complex profile that includes apple, pineapple and lemon. As for how you can enjoy it, there’s really no limit to its applications, though perhaps you should start with a Rockey’s on the rocks.
Rockey’s Milk Punch with Avión silver tequila steeped with ginger, crème de cassis liqueur and half an inverted lime, left; and Rockey’s Milk Punch with George Dickel No. 1 white corn whiskey, Galliano liqueur and edible flowers (image: Signe Birck)
“It’s delicious by itself, poured over ice or maybe with a splash of soda,” says Rockey. “But man, it’s, in my opinion, a beautiful complement to any other spirit. And I literally have not found one that it does not pair well with.”
That’s due in part to what Rockey chose as the base of his product. “I settled on a neutral spirit so I didn’t have to worry about diminishing its versatility,” he says. “I could always rely on the product blending well with anything, and I’m really happy with that decision so far.”
While Rockey may be the Minister of Milk Punch, he has been enjoying learning about it and its myriad applications, as well, often discovering creative and unexpected pairings. “It has been a real pleasure to have other people teach me about my own spirit, to pour it for people and have them experience it for the first time and then to actually utilize it in ways I wouldn’t have thought of,” he says.
His friends in the bartender community have come up with all sorts of interesting uses, from Last Word riffs to the time he was doubtingly baffled but then blown away when someone suggested a Rockey’s Milk Punch mash-up with Amaro Montenegro. In another instance, Brian Miller of New York City’s Polynesian deployed it in a Ti’ Punch. “And all of the sudden you just become a student of other people who are loving your product,” says Rockey.
He recommends combining Champagne with his milk punch for a simple spritz or adding it into your favorite agave or whiskey cocktail. “I personally have been really enjoying it with agave,” he says. “And I’ll tell you, things like bourbon, and American whiskey in general, with the influence of those new charred whiskey barrels, are also delicious with Rockey’s.”
Go ahead and try it and see for yourself. He’s the Minister of Milk Punch for a reason, after all. “Just keep drinking what you like, and maybe try it with Rockey’s sometime,” he says. “You know, the darn stuff was invented 400 years ago by this amazing woman, and how many times do you get to say that? I think it’s an awesome story to tell, and people should feel really proud about this drink and having something that’s a part of history.”