Discover the Singular Thrill of Milk Punch
As the cocktail world continues to grow, an important resource for bartenders is history itself. People have mixed drinks for ages, and eras-old formulas can provide state-of-the-art excitement.
One of the oldest, and perhaps most versatile beverages to experience a revival is milk punch. It’s been around for centuries. Even Benjamin Franklin had his own recipe.
Because it’s a remarkably labor-intensive delicacy, however, it fell out of fashion in many bars until recently. Now, however, milk punch is making a modern comeback.
According to Eamon Rockey, the bartender behind the bottled Rockey’s Milk Punch, everyone from royalty to common folk have enjoyed the drink largely because it’s “flat-out delicious.”
But mostly it’s because milk punch can be made to suit anyone’s taste. “Virtually any thoughtful combination of ingredients yields a wonderful and exciting drink,” says Rockey.
Milk punch’s scarcity on contemporary drink menus could be because it requires endless patience. At first glance, it’s hard to believe that it contains dairy, as these drinks are typically not milky white. That’s thanks to a clarifying technique that happens before serving.
Milk, alcohol (rum and brandy are the most popular choices), citrus and other flavorful ingredients are mixed together, warmed and set aside to allow the milk to curdle. The solids are then strained and removed. Multiple clarifications and hours, if not days, are required to get the mixture as clear as possible.
The process has many benefits. In the 18th century, clarification allowed people to store their punch for long periods. It also creates an incredibly soft mouthfeel unlike any other cocktail, as the milk softens sharper and bitter flavors from the other ingredients. Most bartenders suggest resting your mixture for at least an hour, but many will do it much longer.
“Our milk punch tends to take an entire day, with the majority of the time spent letting the batch rest and straining out the solids,” says Jeff Savage, head bartender at Botanist in Vancouver. His tea-infused One Inch Punch has a golden hue. Staff there can be tasked to prepare milk punches, a luxury that’s rare at other bars.
Today, technology like centrifuges makes the process easier. You can also just use the pre-bottled version to save time. Here are two from-scratch milk punch recipes from some of North America’s leading bartenders, plus one with Rockey’s.
Jump Straight to a Recipe
Courtesy Jeff Savage, head bartender, Botanist, Vancouver
Since milk punch preparation is time consuming, do it in bulk. It makes a perfect party-ready drink. An homage to Vancouver’s robust community of Hong Kong expats, the One Inch Punch was inspired by its traditional milk tea, which typically combines potent black tea, evaporated milk and sugar. This alcoholic riff still has that soft, rich mouthfeel, but it’s made bolder in flavor by bergamot-heavy gin and genever. “I wanted to create a drink that would transport friends from Hong Kong back to those childhood memories of sitting at the family table, enjoying time together,” says Savage.
If you don’t have Kinome leaves on hand, Savage suggests using a savory garnish like rosemary or mint leaves.
- 1¾ cup white sugar
- ⅓ cup orange pekoe tea leaves
- 5 teaspoons orange zest (no pith)
- ½ cup lemon zest (no pith)
- 4⅔ cups strong-brew orange pekoe tea (steeped for 40 minutes)
- 3 cups gin (Savage prefers a citrus-forward gin like Star of Bombay)
- 1 cup genever
- 1 cup dry Curaçao
- 1¼ cup lemon juice
- 3¼ cups half-and-half
- Kinome leaves, for garnish
In large bowl, gently muddle sugar, tea leaves, orange and lemon zest. Strain steeped tea and add to bowl. Whisk until sugar has dissolved. Whisk in gin, genever, dry Curaçao and lemon juice. Add half-and-half to large container, and top with mixture. Gently stir with small spoon to curd. Let rest at least 1 hour.
Line fine mesh strainer with coffee filter and strain out curds. Refrigerate until needed. To serve, pour ½ cup over large ice cube. Garnish with Kinome leaf. Makes 40 cocktails.
Courtesy Drew Hairston, beverage manager, Dirty Habit, Washington, D.C.
Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s love for Key lime pie and rum, the Florida Man cocktail balances the treat’s various flavors. It turns out, a milk punch is a natural fit when you want to turn a dessert into a cocktail. “When you order a milk punch, don’t shy away if it lists obscure spirits or ingredients that don’t usually go together,” says Hairston. “The technique can create new and interesting flavor profiles that aren’t possible otherwise.”
- ½ gallon non-homogenized, lightly pasteurized whole milk
- 1 (14.4-ounce) box graham crackers
- 4 (4-inch) cinnamon sticks
- 15 key limes
- 5 limes
- ½ cup no-cornstarch powdered sugar
- 3 vanilla beans, split, plus more for garnish
- 3 cups Cognac
- ⅔ cup velvet falernum
- ⅔ cup Licor 43
- ⅔ cup Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
- Key lime wheel, for garnish
- Vanilla beans, for garnish
Steep cold milk with graham crackers for 30 minutes, then strain out solids with fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
Zest and juice key limes and limes. Set aside in separate containers. Refrigerate juice.
In a bowl, combine cracked cinnamon sticks, key lime and lime zest, powdered sugar and vanilla beans. Let sit for minimum of 6 hours or up to 1 day.
Add key lime and lime juice to sugar mixture. Combine that with Cognac, velvet falernum, Licor 43 and dry Curaçao. Slowly pour mixture into graham-cracker milk. Stir very gently. Allow mixture to curdle for 1–2 days.
Mixture will separate into two layers. Strain top layer (without milk solids) through fine mesh strainer lined with coffee filters to remove all solids. To serve, pour over ice. Garnish with key lime wheel and vanilla bean. Makes 90 cocktails.
Courtesy Meaghan Dorman, partner/bar director, Dear Irving on Hudson, New York City
Rockey’s Milk Punch on the rocks is a great introduction to the cocktail, especially if you want to experience its unique mouthfeel without devoting hours to making it yourself. Once you’re ready for next-level drinking, this elevated spritz recipe from Dorman highlights the liqueur’s strengths. “I find Rockey’s mixes especially well with bubbly ingredients,” says Dorman. “The pineapple and citrus notes of the milk punch balance out the more floral elements of the cocktail.”
- 1 ounce gin
- 1 ounce Rockey’s Milk Punch
- 1 ounce jasmine tea
- 1½ ounces sparkling Riesling
- Seltzer Frozen grapes, for garnish
Combine gin, milk punch and tea in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake briefly, then strain into ice-filled glass. Top with Riesling and splash of seltzer. Garnish with frozen grapes. Makes 1 cocktail.
- 1Milk (Tea) Punch
- 2A Key Lime Pie Meets Milk Punch Cocktail
- 3A Milk Punch Spritz Surprise