If you’re looking for a new drink to spice up your cocktail repertoire, look no further than the holiday goodness of milk punch. While the name “milk punch” may have you thinking of a frothy, milkshake-like cocktail along the lines of spiked eggnog, don’t be fooled. Clarified milk punch—the kind that’s making waves in the cocktail scene these days—is a clear, refreshing drink that’s incredibly versatile. It can be made with nearly any type of liquor, from mezcal to brandy, and infused with everything from tea to bright orange to apple cider. No matter your booze proclivity, there’s a milk punch out there for you.
Despite the drink’s clear consistency, rest assured that there is, in fact, milk, in said punch. The cocktail starts with a base of boiled milk, which gets mixed with citrus and alcohol (usually rum or brandy). When the milk reacts with the acids in the citrus and alcohol, it forms curds, which then get strained through a cheesecloth. This leaves a clarified, translucent liquid which is the essence of milk punch, and then can take on any flavor palate that you like. Serving milk punch at a winter holiday meal? Infuse the cocktail with warming spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and coriander. Want something refreshing to sip on a summer day? Choose rum as your base, and pineapple as your citrus.
Milk punch has a rich history in the cocktail world, with first mentions dating all the way back to the mid 18th century. The drink was appreciated for its stability–clarifying the milk created a stable, long-lasting drink that could be made in large batches and easily stored for months at a time. Rumor has it that milk punch was the drink of choice for those kind of important historical figures like Benjamin Franklin and Charles Dickens–more than enough to give this drink street cred.
A word to the wise: the straining process does take from 2 to 24 hours, so this is a drink you’ll have to plan for in advance. That also means it’s a great punch to make ahead of time for your next dinner party, leaving you one less thing to do day-of.
2 cups cognac
2 cups rum
2 teaspoons loose chai tea
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons simple syrup
Freshly grated nutmeg
Combine brandy, rum, tea, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large pitcher. Set aside to steep for 2–3 hours, then strain and discard any solids
Bring milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Immediately add simmering milk to brandy mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 24 hours. Strain chilled mixture through a cheesecloth or fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover and chill until cold.
Ladle clarified milk punch base into a clean pitcher for serving, leaving any remaining curds at the bottom of the bowl.
Combine simple syrup and 3 oz punch base in a cocktail shaker and fill shaker with ice. Shake until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain the mix into a chilled glass and garnish with nutmeg and a cinnamon stick.
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