THE BLOG
02/28/2014 04:11 pm ET | Updated Apr 30, 2014

6 Milk Punch Recipes for Mardi Gras (or Any Tuesday)

Alia Akkam

When you first see milk punch, you may think it's a misnomer. Though the 18th-century cocktail is made with milk, it's as transparent as water (okay, more like translucent), which is why contemporary bartenders are as obsessed with it as was Benjamin Franklin back in 1763. But wait, what happens to the, uh, milky stuff? Well, the milk gets mixed with liquor, simple syrup, and dairy-curdling citrus, then those curds get strained out, leaving behind flavorful, alcohol-infused whey. In the era before refrigeration, this process ensured the punch could remain shelf-stable for months.

SEE MORE: Where to Mail-Order King Cakes for Mardi Gras

Since then, this cocktail has remained a New Orleans tradition, an eye-opener that provides much-needed stamina during the whirl of Mardi Gras festivities. But today, bartenders across the country are whipping up their own versions, with liquors ranging from the traditional brandy to vodka. Be forewarned -- some of these recipes are time-intensive... so plan ahead!

  • Brandy Milk Punch
    “Unlike many great classic cocktails that you have to make individually, milk punch actually tastes better if you let it ‘marinate’ overnight. All the elements come together this way,” says Ti Martin, co-owner of New Orleans’s storied Commander’s Palace. During the restaurant’s beloved brunch, its brandy rendition appears on almost every table; in the summertime Martin prefers bourbon. Make it the night before, and then serve it a rocks glass with freshly grated nutmeg. "This is my favorite Mardi Gras drink," says Martin. "We actually freeze them in water bottles, and after a few hours on our float it is a perfect slushy consistency.” INGREDIENTS 2 ounces brandy 1 1/2 ounces heavy cream or almond milk 1 ounce simple syrup 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract Freshly grated nutmeg (for serving) PREPARATION Combine brandy, cream, simple syrup, and vanilla extract in a cocktail shaker; fill shaker with ice. Shake until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with nutmeg.
  • Crystal Clear Milk Punch
    This versatile recipe from Eamon Rockey, general manager of New York's Betony, calls for robust black tea like Assam or English Breakfast, paired with either beer, cider, or in-season juice. “Blood orange is great right now,” he said in February. An à la minute spirit—say, vodka, gin, or rum—is up to the imbiber. “The nice thing about straying a bit from the original recipe by not adding a base spirit until serving it is that you can customize it to your guests' preferences." INGREDIENTS 3 cups brewed black tea 3 cups fresh lemon juice 3 cups fresh orange juice 1 cup simple syrup 1 cup vodka 3 cups whole milk 1 1/2 ounces vodka PREPARATION Combine tea, lemon juice, orange juice, simple syrup, and vodka in a large pitcher. Bring milk to a bare simmer in a medium saucepan. Immediately pour milk into vodka mixture (milk will curdle right away). Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a large bowl. Cover and chill until cold (any remaining curds should settle at the bottom of the pitcher). Carefully ladle clarified punch into a clean pitcher, leaving any remaining curds behind. Chill until ready to serve. For each cocktails, combine vodka and 2 oz. milk punch base in a cocktail shaker and fill shaker with ice. Shake until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.
  • Barbecue Apple Milk Punch
    Backbar, tucked behind the restaurant Journeyman in Somerville, MA, serves a roster of ambitious milk punches—co-owner and bar manager Sam Treadway guesses they’ve churned out about 100 different ones over the past two years. One ambitious hit is the BBQ Apple, in which Treadway mixes equal parts mezcal, gin, apple brandy, maple liqueur, apple cider syrup, and lemon juice, capped off with a blast of chipotle Tabasco before the boiling milk makes an appearance. “It sold like hotcakes," Treadway said, "because people heard the description and they were intrigued. ‘BBQ apple? I don't know what that would taste like.’ And then once they did, it both fit the title and was surprisingly pleasant without any singular flavor being too aggressive." INGREDIENTS 1 1/2 cups apple brandy (preferably Laird’s) 1 1/2 cups gin (preferably CapRock) 1 1/2 cups maple liqueur (preferably Green Mountain) 1 1/2 cups mescal (preferably El Buho) 1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice 1 1/2 cups Apple Cider Syrup (click for recipe) Tabasco smoked chipotle hot sauce (optional) 3 cups whole milk PREPARATION Combine brandy, gin, liqueur, mezcal, lemon juice, and syrup in a large pitcher. Bring milk to a bare simmer in a medium saucepan. Immediately pour milk into brandy mixture (milk will curdle right away). Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a large bowl. Cover and chill until cold (any remaining curds should settle at the bottom of the pitcher). Carefully ladle clarified punch into a clean pitcher, leaving any remaining curds behind. Chill until ready to serve.
  • Seasonal Milk Punch
    The current iteration of milk punch on the menu of New York restaurant North River flaunts a heady mix of dark rum and bourbon, along with ruby red Port. “Right now," says owner Colby Zito, "we serve this version with aged spirits because I think it very much exemplifies what I want to drink during the cold winter months." His spring version will contain fresher, more herbaceous flavors. INGREDIENTS Zest of 1 lemon, removed with a peeler Zest of 1 lime, removed with a peeler Zest of 1 orange, removed with a peeler 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar 8 dashes orange bitters 1 750-ml bottle bourbon 1 750-ml bottle dark rum 1 cup fresh lemon juice 1 cup fresh lime juice 1 cup fresh orange juice 8 cups whole milk PREPARATION Using a wooden spoon, muddle lemon zest, lime zest, orange zest, granulated sugar, and brown sugar in a medium bowl until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add Port and bitters and let sit 15 minutes. Stir in bourbon, rum, lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, and 1 cup water. Bring milk to a bare simmer in a medium saucepan. Immediately pour milk into Cognac mixture (milk will curdle right away). Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a large bowl. Cover and chill until cold (any remaining curds should settle at the bottom of the pitcher). Carefully ladle clarified punch into a clean pitcher, leaving any remaining curds behind. Chill until ready to serve.
  • Winter Milk Punch
    Milk punch is undoubtedly the star of Brooklyn bar Tooker Alley’s cocktail menu. Proprietor Del Pedro infuses it with Oregon chai for a deep tea flavor. “I didn’t feel that I had to hew to an orthodox milk punch,” Pedro explains. “Leaving some milk solids in helped with the body of the drink. It was much more satisfying on a cold winter night than the classic.” Pedro also shuns “quite-heavy” demerara syrup and serves his milk punch straight up because he found ice diluted it too much, and the flavors became dissipated. INGREDIENTS 2 cups Cognac (preferably Courvoisier VS) 2 cups rum (Appleton Estate VX) 2 teaspoons loose chai tea 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 2 ounces fresh lemon juice 1 cup whole milk 1 1/2 tablespoons Demerara Simple Syrup (click for recipe) Freshly grated nutmeg (for serving) PREPARATION Combine Cognac, rum, tea, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large pitcher. Set aside to steep, 2 hours; strain and discard tea and lemon zest. Bring milk to a bare simmer in a medium saucepan. Immediately add hot milk to cognac mixture (milk will curdle right away). Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean pitcher or large bowl, leaving about half of the curds in the base. Cover and chill until ready to serve. 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 into a chilled glass and garnish with nutmeg.
  • Warm Milk Punch
    Classic cocktails are the crux of The Varnish, the sexy hideout behind Cole’s, in downtown Los Angeles. The warm milk punch doesn’t stray too far from Mary Rocket’s 18th-century creation (the first one ever written), but small tweaks include a mix of rum and Cognac instead of using solely brandy, letting an oleo-saccharum (muddled lemon zest and sugar that create a fragrant syrup) stand in for a lemon peel infusion, and swapping in more milk for water. “The process is time-consuming,” says general manager Max Seaman, "but it allows the flavors and textures to integrate and unify." INGREDIENTS Zest of 4 lemons, removed with a peeler 2 tablespoons sugar 1 cup fresh lemon juice 1 cup Demerara Simple Syrup (click for recipe) 1 750-ml bottle Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac or other full-bodied Cognac, preferably 86–94 proof 750 ml El Dorado 5-year-old rum or other dark rum 3 cups whole milk PREPARATION Using a wooden spoon, muddle lemon zest and sugar in a medium bowl until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Cover and let sit at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours (longer is better). At this point sugar should be dissolved, leaving a lemon-flavored syrup. Combine lemon syrup, lemon juice, demerara syrup, Cognac, and rum in a large pitcher. Bring milk to a bare simmer in a medium saucepan. Immediately pour milk into Cognac mixture (milk will curdle right away). Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a large bowl. Cover and chill until cold (any remaining curds should settle at the bottom of the pitcher). Carefully ladle clarified punch into a clean pitcher, leaving any remaining curds behind. Chill until ready to serve. Reheat gently just before serving and divide among teacups.

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