We were always told milk will give us strong bones and teeth if we drink a glass every day. But what about Milk Punch? The classic cocktail popular in New Orleans has been around since the 18th century and is often big during the holidays and weekend brunch. No, it’s not like Eggnog; this is quite different.
While there’s a classic recipe—bourbon or brandy mixed with milk or cream—there's also Clarified Milk Punch, which yields a clear liquid after milk is boiled with whatever base spirit and citrus to curdle the milk before straining it over and over to achieve the desired clarity. It's a cumbersome process, but bartenders across the country have gotten creative with their recipes. Check out these 14 variations on both styles for your drinking pleasure.
Wanting to move away from a spiced or citrusy flavor profile often found in Milk Punch, Matt Piacentini, the owner of Greenwich Village’s Up & Up, wanted to make a summery apéritif with a base of Aperol, Aviation American gin and lemon juice. He added absinthe, simple syrup and whole milk to create this drink that means "flying saucer" in Italian. "All the flavors come through, but all the acidity has been stripped away," says Piacentini. "It’s clean, bitter and fruity, and the viscosity is actually quite refreshing."
At Punch House, in the lower level of Michelin-starred restaurant Dusek's in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, they keep things simple with their Milk Punch. Using just quality cognac, whey, lemon and nutmeg, Punch House director of hospitality Will Duncan stayed true to the classic recipe's roots. The bar team admits some patrons act confused when seeing a "milk" cocktail, but they take time to explain the history, the process and that it's not a thick, creamy glass of milk, rather a clear, smooth drink.
This off-menu take on a classic Clarified Milk Punch was crafted to complement chef John Bel's seasonal menu. To that end, it incorporates various fruit and tea with milk, all of which cooks down to separate the curds and whey. Brandy, bourbon and rum then get added, resulting in a clear and light yet strong cocktail.
(image: Christopher Brian)
At Bazaar Meat—Michelin-starred chef Jose Andres' temple to all things meat at the SLS hotel in Las Vegas—Miguel Lancha, the "cocktail innovator" for Andres' company Think Food Group, created the Ben Franklin Milk Punch. He uses Lepanto Spanish brandy, nutmeg, lemon juice and clarified milk. Lancha added it to the restaurant's cocktail list for its freshness and nostalgia. "Clarified Milk Punch is a great drink from the old times, and it's one of the few things from the past that hadn’t been massively explored," he says. "It’s also a very pleasant way of enjoying a not-so-soft ABV drink in the summer." Don't worry, you can still drink it into fall.
(image: Anthony Mair)
Inspired by the original drink offered at its sister restaurant in New Orleans, Commander's Palace, this Brandy Milk Punch has been enjoyed at Brennan's for nearly 50 years. The off-menu drink comprises milk, brandy, sugar, vanilla extract, a bit of sprinkled nutmeg and a half-ounce of amaretto to appease the sweeter palate of its clientele. If you're ever in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, try to get your hands on one of the Brennan's Frozen Milk Punch water bottles. By the time the parade hits, it turns into a slushie.
Indian Accent beverage director Daniel Beedle created this drink with Chaat Masala tea in mind. He takes a base of Batavia arrack, assam tea and pineapple and then goes to town by incorporating scotch, Navy-strength rum and cognac but doesn't stop there. To add texture, he uses Battenkill Valley whole milk and oleo saccharum to sweeten. He also includes a slew of spices: cardamom, clove, vanilla, Kashmiri chile powder, fennel seed, fenugreek, Ceylon cinnamon, and orange and lemon zest. "We like to separate our Milk Punch from the rest by having a very long maceration and semi-fermentation of the herbs and spices before the milk comes into play," says Beedle. "This adds to the overall mouthfeel and aromatic complexity."
This take on a combination of a White Russian and Milk Punch came to life when Publican wine and spirits manager Chase "Chacha" Bracamontes asked a co-worker for a fun caffeinated drink and she made her a delicious chai tea latte. She then thought about a "fun, milky cocktail" she'd want to drink that was like a White Russian but wasn't a White Russian. What came about combines Bernheim Original Kentucky straight wheat whiskey that was hand-selected by the Publican staff with bourbon vanilla chai tea, honey and cream and topped with Angostura bitters and served over crushed ice. The resulting drink offers creamy, roasty vanilla and clove notes and is great for "summer fun day drinking," says Bracamontes.
It takes three days to make Faith & Flower's English Milk Punch, which has been around for a few years and comes as a singular cocktail or large-format punch in a crystal decanter. Originally created by former bar manager Mike Lay, the drink is a powerhouse comprising Navy-strength rum, aged Spanish rum, white rum, bourbon, brandy, curaçao, Batavia arrack, Pernod absinthe, sencha green tea, cinnamon, clove, coriander and clarified milk. (Maybe they should have called this the Kitchen Sink Punch.) Even though Darwin Pornel and Ryan Wainwright now lead the bar program, the original drink remains a favorite.
(image: Laura Ford)
For Boston's Oak + Rowan, set to open next month, bar manager Chris O'Neill made this take on the icy limoncello he would always find at his Italian grandmother's house. Following a little trial and error, he came up with this creamier grapefruit version that uses an Everclear base with milk and sugar. "It's a soft grapefruit citrus nose, followed by a silky, viscous mouth feel," says O'Neill. "The palate that chases is a high-proof-alcohol taste that's fleeting but present, ending in a Creamsicle-esque nostalgia." And about 90 proof!
(image: Chris O’Neill)
Like all seasonal cocktails at Philly's Vernick Food & Drink, the Lavender is so named for the gorgeous purple herb found throughout Provence. Beverage director J.B. Bernstein starts with gin, Chartreuse and Becherovka herbal bitters, then adds clover honey, citrus, spice and clarified milk before adding an egg white and shaking the entire concoction to produce a beautiful frothy cocktail perfect for transitioning from summer into fall.
At East Village cocktail bar Mace, bartender Nico de Soto makes an Indian-inspired twist on the classic Ramos Gin Fizz by including saffron and rosewater. The aptly named Saffron comprises saffron-infused gin, almond milk, rosewater, orange flower water, lemon and lime juice, sugar, egg white, soda and salted pistachio. The result is a beautifully frothy cocktail served in a weizen glass and has the appearance of a refreshing, light wheat beer.
At Presidio, this Clarified Milk Punch gains inspiration from the iconic San Francisco gay neighborhood (all the drinks here are named for nabes in SF and Chicago) and was created by bartender Tom Sannito. It combines whiskey, a rum blend, banana, pineapple juice, gentian apéritif, lemon juice and green tea. All of the ingredients get combined and sit overnight to simmer before head bartender Sam Lyden turns it into a Milk Punch. It's served on the rocks and gives off a golden hue due to the natural color of present whey protein.
If you're looking for a little hair of the dog and a take on the traditional brunch Milk Punch often enjoyed in New Orleans, you just found it at Cavan. Bar director Isaiah Estell plays off coffee flavors with Varnelli Caffè Moka espresso liqueur. He then combines it with Evan Williams bottled-in-bond bourbon, Hoodoo chicory liqueur and heavy cream over ice in a rocks glass and garnishes it with freshly ground espresso. If that doesn't kick-start your day, you might as well go back to bed.
(image: Juliana Argentino)
The Coconut Milk Punch is a way for Josh Perry, the head bartender at Monterey's iconic Restaurant 1833, to pay homage to his love of drinking a great Piña Colada on vacation in the tropics. But for this, he wanted to retain the delicious coconut, pineapple and rum flavors without carrying over the cloying sweetness of a beachside colada. The result is a more refined presentation that includes Scarlet Ibis Trinidad rum, John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, coconut water, spiced syrup, whole milk, and lime and pineapple juice. Keeping with the tropical flair, Perry garnishes the drink with an edible flower. It's your choice if you want to eat it or wear it.
Mixing your cocktail