When we talk about holiday-themed cocktails, one beverage tends to dominate these conversations: good old eggnog. This creamy, well-spiced golden sipper (usually spiked with dark rum, spiced rum, brandy, or bourbon) can be found at parties, family gatherings, and bars throughout the month of December … but in spite of its popularity, some imbibers balk at eggnog’s thick texture (and the fact that raw egg yolks are a prominent nog ingredient).
If you’re on the hunt for a comforting holiday-season cocktail with eggnog’s flavor benefits but without its heaviness, we’d like to direct your attention to milk punch, a vintage beverage (dating back as far as the 17th and 18th centuries) that’s ideal for entertaining.
What exactly is milk punch?
We asked co-owner Justin Lavenue of The Roosevelt Room in Austin (who includes a milk punch on his bar menu) for a clear definition of this beverage, and he absolutely delivered with the following:
“There are two kinds of milk punch. The first, typically called Brandy Milk Punch or Bourbon Milk Punch, is popular in New Orleans. It is citrus-free and includes milk, almost like an egg nog without the whole egg. The second type, and the type that we make at The Roosevelt Room, is often called English Milk Punch or Clarified Milk Punch, and involves the clarifying of the whole punch by combining all of the ingredients, then curdling the milk in the punch by heating it, adding alcohol and citrus, then straining everything through the milk curds to condense all of the solids and filter them out, resulting in a crystal-clear punch that has a silky mouthfeel due to the fact that it is full of the leftover milk whey.”
To summarize: NOLA-style milk punch is basically an eggnog without the eggs, while English (or clarified) milk punch is a lighter, more versatile version without milk solids. Nowadays, pro bartenders and beverage directors tend to lean in the direction of clarified milk punches when adding these old-school drinks to their cocktail lists.
Why is this vintage cocktail worthy of a 21st-century revamp?
“I really feel like the milk punch cocktail is having its renaissance due to bartenders actually delving into the history of the cocktail. We had a long period of time during Prohibition where we lost so much information in the cocktail world. Right as the world of bartending was taking root in American culture, we stopped watering the plants, as it were. All that knowledge dried up or was secreted away. Milk punch is one of those drinks that is of the Old Guard of cocktails. So naturally, what we as bartenders and booze nerds want to do with it now is turn it on its head and make it distinctly our own and more delicious,” Billy Weston, former beverage director of Central Standard in Austin (who added a popular cereal-milk punch to the restaurant’s cocktail list), says of milk punch’s rising profile in today’s drinking scene.
To summarize: NOLA-style milk punch is basically an eggnog without the eggs, while English (or clarified) milk punch is a lighter, more versatile version without milk solids.
Although beverage manager Evan Wolf presides over The Company Burger in New Orleans, he considers the English (aka clarified) milk punch the style most deserving of a rebirth, explaining that “clarified milk punch is enjoying a renaissance for a number of reasons. For one, it requires a fair amount of work behind the scenes but is easy to produce in a large quantity and is extremely efficient and consistent to serve once the prep work is done. I also think that it’s an especially great offering on a restaurant cocktail menu; with people increasingly drinking cocktails throughout their meals as opposed to before or after, the smooth, subtle notes of a good clarified milk punch are easy to pair with food.”
Lead bartender Lauren Mathews of Urbana in Washington, D.C. — whose Breakfast With Henry clarified milk punch, including Fruit Loop milk, gin, and citrus, is a massive hit among her clientele — agrees that clarified milk punches have particular potential as canvases for bartender ingenuity, and she cautions against talking yourself out of giving the process a whirl: “Some may feel that making a milk punch cocktail is a daunting task, but it’s not as hard as imagined and it allows a bartender to be creative and have fun while playing around with different and new ingredients.”
If you’re ready to take Mathews’ suggestion and experiment with different clarified milk punch ingredients and flavors, heed the advice of lead bartender Christian Diaz of Square 1682 in Philadelphia and “use [your] nose and taste to find the perfect balance, as well as patience and, as we say in Philly, ‘trusting the process.’ Steady wins the race. Letting it sit for 24-48 hours really makes it easier to strain and gives a clear product. Coffee filters are your best friend! When it comes to milk temperature, I’ve found that room temperature milk works best.”
Now, read on for 4 creative milk punch recipes ideal for your next party.
(Created by Jason Stevens, director of beverage and bars, Mattie’s, Austin)
The Lone Star State’s capital city proves an especially auspicious location for milk punch fans, and those who want to try the more egg nog-ish version of this drink will find an impeccable version at Mattie’s. Beverage director Jason Stevens tells us that the 1965 Milk Punch draws its inspiration from a recipe in “The Texas Cookbook” written in 1965 by Mary Faulk Koock, the daughter of Mattie’s namesake, Martha “Mattie” Faulk. “Today’s drinkers should give this old-school beverage a try because it’s got all the deliciousness and holiday cheer of eggnog, but drinks lighter and is easier to prepare,” Stevens says of this vintage treat.
- 4 oz bourbon (Stevens prefers Buffalo Trace)
- 3 oz Cognac (Stevens prefers Pierre Ferrand 1840)
- 2 oz crème de cacao (Stevens prefers Tempus Fugit)
- 1.5 oz Jamaican rum (Stevens prefers Appleton Reserve)
- 16 oz half-and-half
- 8 oz whole milk
- 2.5 oz grade A or B maple syrup
- 1 oz vanilla paste
Method: Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl and stir vigorously to make sure the vanilla is fully dispersed in the mix, then chill until very cold. Dispense milk punch into small chilled cups and garnish each cup with freshly grated nutmeg.
(Created by Patricia Grimm, beverage director, Adele’s, Nashville)
When designing her take on milk punch, Patricia Grimm made the intriguing decision to adapt a native New Orleanian cocktail (the Hurricane) into an English milk punch (rather than a NOLA-style one). The result? A lively, fruit-forward cocktail that’s equally well-suited to fireside winter festivities and warm-weather gatherings.
- 15 oz light rum
- 15 oz dark rum
- 30 oz jar of passion fruit concentrate (Grimm prefers Perfect Purée of Napa Valley Passion Fruit Concentrate)
- 12 cups whole milk
- 30 oz simple syrup
- 4 tsp allspice
- 8 limes
Method: Add passion fruit concentrate, light and dark rum, simple syrup, and allspice to a sealable plastic container and stir to combine. Peel and juice the limes and add the peels and the juice to the mixture. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days. Strain mixture through a mesh strainer into a container that has room to hold another 14 cups of liquid. Discard the peels and allspice berries. Bring 12 cups of whole milk to a slow boil, being careful not to scorch the milk or overflow the pot. When the milk comes to a boil, immediately turn off the heat and pour the entire pot of milk into the cold cocktail mixture. Strain the mixture through a paper grease or coffee filter, making sure to capture all curds and milk solids. Once strained, refrigerate and serve whenever ready over a large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel and a cherry.
(Created by Drew Hairston, beverage manager, Dirty Habit, Washington, D.C.)
Whimsical flavors and a milk punch base make a formidable team, and Drew Hairston devised his Florida Man cocktail as “an homage to the legendary Ernest Hemingway and his ties to Key West. Inspired by Hemingway’s penchant for key lime pie and rum, I designed a clarified milk punch around these favorite flavors. The combination of rum, fresh key limes, whole milk, house-made Tahitian vanilla cordial, falernum, and graham crackers is remarkably reminiscent of a key lime pie.”
- 750 ml Cognac (Hairston prefers Pierre Ferrand Cognac)
- 150 ml Velvet Falernum
- 150 ml citrus liqueur (Hairston prefers Licor 43)
- 150 ml dry curaçao (Hairston prefers Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao)
- 15 key limes
- 5 limes
- 1 box graham crackers
- .5 cup powdered sugar (no corn starch added)
- 3 vanilla beans, split
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- .5 gallon non-homogenized/ lightly pasteurized/ creamline whole milk
Method: In a large container, steep your milk with the graham crackers. In a separate container, make an “oleo saccharum” by combining cracked cinnamon sticks, key lime & lime zest, powdered sugar, and vanilla beans. Allow the saccharum to sit for a minimum of 6 hours or up to a day. After the saccharum is done, add the juice of your limes and mix with the sugar to combine. Strain the graham crackers out of the milk using a fine mesh sieve or chinois into a non-reactive container, making sure no solids remain. Combine your sugar/juice mixture with all of your liquors and slowly pour it into your milk. Make sure to pour the liquor mix into the milk, not the other way around. Stir very gently to incorporate and allow this mixture to curdle for 1 to 2 days. After a day or two this mixture will separate into two layers. Strain the top layer (the one without the milk solids) through a chinois lined with a coffee filter. Once this initial layer is strained, you can filter the chunky milk curds to yield more product. Getting any of the milky white solids into your punch will impart a sour or bitter flavor. Using a centrifuge makes this part exponentially easier. A large industrial sized salad spinner will work as well. To serve, pour the punch directly over ice into a snifter. Garnish with a key lime wheel and vanilla bean.
(Created by Sean Saunders, beverage director, Devon, New York City)
While the spirits used in traditional eggnog are generally limited to dark rum, whiskey, and brandy, clarified milk punch opens up a wide range of liquor-pairing possibilities … including agave spirits like mezcal and tequila. Sean Saunders brings tropical and vegetal flavors into his tequila milk punch, resulting in a unique and thoroughly festive beverage.
- 4 cups tequila
- 2 cups mezcal
- 4 cups of milk
- 2 cups jasmine tea
- 2 cups pineapple juice
- 2 cups red pepper juice (juiced red bell peppers)
- 1 cup lime juice
- 1 cup sugar
Method: Mix all ingredients except for the milk and the lime juice. Bring the milk to a light boil, then immediately remove from heat. Add the milk and lime juice to the other ingredients and allow the milk to fully curdle, then strain. Allow the clarified punch to rest for 24 hours. When ready to serve, ladle into glasses, taking care not to disturb the sediment.
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