Eighteenth-century England was rife with harsh liquors and devoid of refrigerators. Clarification solved both problems. In 1711, housewife Mary Rockett recorded the earliest-known clarified milk punch recipe. Add two gallons of hot milk to a gallon of brandy, five quarts of water, eight lemons, and two pounds of sugar. Let the mixture sit for an hour, then strain it through a flannel bag. The result? A clear, silky-smooth, shelf-stable elixir that lasted for months. No refrigerator necessary.
Benjamin Franklin was a notable fan of clarified milk punch. He enclosed his own recipe in a letter to the governor of Massachusetts in 1763. Over a century later, bottles of the stuff were discovered in Charles Dickens’s wine cellar. Dickens had died, but the milk punch was still good.
The secret to clarified milk punch is the curdling, which makes it possible to strain out dairy solids through a cheesecloth or fine mesh until the beverage is clear. Since this can take hours, clarified milk punch can’t be “made to order.” But the process is cheap, requires little equipment, and makes milk punch nonperishable (for years, potentially, if kept cool), so bartenders often prepare large quantities of it. It also offers a simple method for mellowing harsh liquors.
These qualities have inspired a clarified milk punch revival. Bartenders craft milky punches from all sorts of ingredients, because the straining process makes unusual infusions smooth and subtle. Creative combinations include sugar-cereal-milk with absinthe and corn-milk with pork fat, jalapeño-infused mezcal, coconut water, and spices. In an age of fridges and high-quality liquors, craft-cocktail bartenders still make clarified milk pack a punch.
Need to Know
You can whip up clarified milk punch at home from any number of online recipes. If you find it at a bar, make sure it's clarified, as “milk punch” is the name of a different drink.