Cocktail science, magic and history – the Clarified Milk Punch

How do you turn MILK into a clear liquid, then into a smooth, tasty cocktail? Alchemy, magic and science.

The History

The classic cocktails I’ve had were mainly from the 20’s and 30’s. The clarified milk punch cocktail, though, is centuries older! As in, even Benjamin Franklin had a recipe for it.

Benjamin Franklin’s recipe (The Educated Barfly)

No one’s really sure who actually invented this cocktail. Some say the oldest known written record of this recipe is that of housewife Mary Rockett, circa early 1700s. However, other records show that Aphra Behn – writer, courtesan and party girl – served it at her soirees in the 1600s.

Aphra Behn (Wikipedia)

According to The Bartender’s Guide (circa 1862), the clarified milk punch is “a literal hot mess of curdled dairy, citric acid, pineapple juice, tea, and booze”. Yes, it sounds disgusting. So why am I writing about it, right? Because weirdly cool cocktail science, people! Come on now!

When I first heard about it, I kept asking myself, “WHY, though??” As in, why would anyone put themselves through such a pain in the ass hassle – perform way more than a reasonable number of steps – just for this cocktail?

Lots of people back in the day were hooked on it, too, so I was curious.

Clarifying the milk (The Inspired Home)

The Science and Magic

When milk comes in contact with acid and alcohol, it separates. The curds settle to the bottom, and the milk proteins (casein) strip out the color and bitterness caused by tannins.

After the acids curdle the milk, it’s time for the magic to happen. Now you strain out the solids by pouring the curdled mixture through a cheesecloth, coffee sieve, or whatever. Or if you’re using ol’ Benny’s recipe, “run it thru a jelly bag till it is clear”.

Then you mix that clarified citrusy liquid with booze (like brandy, bourbon or rum) and spices. The result is, according to Aphra Behn’s recipe, a cocktail that’s “devoid of color but also dangerously easy to drink. Slightly sweet, full of spices, and velvety-smooth on the palate”.

The Experience

I flew to Santa Fe and went to the only bar I knew of that had it on their menu – the La Fiesta Lounge.

One evening, I got to the bar just before the live music and dancing started. I asked the bartender if I could watch him make the clarified milk punch.

He said sorry, no.

The whole mass-production process takes about a couple of days, including 8 hours just to strain out the milk solids. So he gave me a sample in a fancy aperitif glass.

I’m staring at the glass, and I can see right through it. Who would’ve believed this started out as MILK? Then I took a large sip and MMMM! There’s a “fullness” to the flavor, probably from the booze and spices. Plus, the milk’s whey proteins create a slightly thick silkiness to the cocktail’s texture as you sip it. You can sip it straight – I can see this as a winter drink – or add ice to lighten it up.

I thanked the bartender for the taste and ordered the full-size cocktail. This is probably the strangest cocktail I’ve ever had, but it’s very tasty, smooth, and easy to enjoy. I’d definitely order this again!

Cheers!

The Recipe

There are many variations and versions of the Clarified Milk Punch. Here’s one video I found:


Credits

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/clarified-milk-punch-recipe
https://theeducatedbarfly.com/benjamin-franklins-milk-punch
https://theinspiredhome.com/articles/a-winter-spiced-make-ahead-cocktail
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphra_Behn
https://www.splendidtable.org/story/2017/09/15/classic-cocktail-revived-americas-test-kitchen-on-milk-punch