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

The Pickleback: Booze and Pickles, #Why?

Some experiences are more “cautionary tale” than “epic adventure”. Like cocktail ingredients that shouldn’t occupy the same shot glass. Irish Cream and lime juice, for instance. Plus, others that shouldn’t even be in the same room.
Case in point, mayonnaise.

AND YET!…
Bailey’s Irish cream + lime juice = The Cement Mixer
Absinthe + vodka + mayonnaise = The Stinger Worm

Just goes to show there are people with minds and palates far more open than mine. Like the Irish! Although their reactions don’t vary much past anger:

https://youtu.be/rFH0J29QMKc?t=109

Or even bewilderment:

https://youtu.be/rFH0J29QMKc?t=119

Which brings me to today’s cautionary tale (or epic adventure) – The Pickleback!

Cocktail History: The Pickleback

But first, a little cocktail history. The pickleback is a whiskey shot chased by a shot of pickle brine/pickle juice, or a bite of whole dill pickle. Upon first hearing about the pickleback, I was torn between curiosity and outrage. So I tried piecing together the pickleback’s origin story.

Some say in 2006, a customer at Brooklyn’s Bushwick Country Club – one of the divey-est dive bars in New York City, according to Eater – asked for a shot of pickle juice to accompany her vodka. Curious about this request, bartender Reggie Cunningham decided to have his own little experiment by downing several shots of Old Crow Bourbon, each followed with shots of McClure’s pickle juice. He loved it, and started serving what he dubbed ‘The Pickleback’. Later, Jameson became the whiskey of choice for the pickleback.

However, pickle juice chasers aren’t new to the cocktail world. Long before Reggie’s epiphany, they were paired with tequila shots in Texas. Plus, pickle dills followed vodka shots in Russia.

The Pickleback Experience

This all sounded like crazy talk. And in my deeply heartfelt opinion, whiskey is an art and a science, involving craftsmanship and a quest for perfection. So why would anyone … ANYONE … want to F– it up with pickles?? According to one theory, the brine soothes the burn from the booze. We’ll see about that.

On a mellow Tuesday late afternoon, I wandered over to a saloon called The River Pig – a quick stop before heading over to meet a gal pal for HH nachos and tequila. Later that night, mosh pit thrashin’ on Bluegrass night at another local bar.

It was the holidays, so the saloon was decked out in Christmas decor.

What is a “river pig”, you ask?
Back in the day, they were the guys who guided logs down the river to saw mills. They also walked on the floating timber, and used a 12-foot pike to free up log jams. It was a super dangerous job, with guys sometimes falling off one log into the river, before being smashed to death by several others. Because it was so risky, the river pigs were paid more than lumberjacks. Later, that hard-earned money was spent on many glasses of whiskey at the end of the day.

Soon as I sat on my bar stool, I ordered a pickleback. The barkeep brought me two shots – shot of Old Taylor Bourbon and shot of pickle juice. For a while, I just sat there staring at them.

The bourbon shot, I could totally do; it was the pickle juice that gave me pause. I mean, it was A LOT of pickle juice! My courage was faltering. Hmm.

Decided to put in an order for some curly fries, as a precaution or ’emergency response’ tactic. Figured I might need them to scrape my tongue, after I threw up in my mouth. As soon as the curly fries arrived, I was ready.

The Verdict

Down went Old Taylor (MMMMM! Zero burn, by the way). Down went the pickle juice, and….
HUH! It really wasn’t all that horrible. It was actually…kinda tasty! The sweetness from the bourbon and salty sourness of the pickle juice reminded me of those experimental, suprisingly tasty fusion snacks you find at the potato chips section, like chipotle ranch dressing Cheetos, or something.

They say conquering your fears makes you stronger. And perhaps I am a better person after this.

But I STILL draw the line at mayonnaise in my booze. Cheers!

The Pickleback
Adapted from recipe at Liquor.com

Ingredients:

1 1/2 ounces Jameson Irish whiskey
1 1/2 ounces pickle juice/pickle brine

Steps:

Add the whiskey into a shot glass.
Add the pickle brine into a separate shot glass.
Instruct the drinker to take the whiskey as a shot, then the pickle brine as a chaser.


Credits:
TRY Channel on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFH0J29QMKc
https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/513951/brief-history-pickleback-shot
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickleback
https://www.thrillist.com/drink/nation/pickleback-shots-11-things-you-didn-t-know-about-picklebacks
https://www.liquor.com/pickleback-recipe-5087251

A Quarantini Cocktail: The Mint Julep

julep4

 

So your favorite watering-hole is closed down by the pandemic. Or popping by for a pint while bars are opening at half-capacity (or less) in phases means waiting in line, or making a reservation days ahead.

Fortunately, there’s a solutions for these: the Quarantini! But not having an impressively stocked arsenal, like your favorite bar does, means working with what you’ve got.

So what’s a girl to do? What, indeed.

 

whiskys

 

The only explosive growth I’ve seen this early summer is the mint plant in my garden. And, like they say, when life hands you mint, make juleps!

 

julep3

 

The mint julep has been around since the 18th century, and is still the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby. It’s been featured in classic literature, such as Gone with the Wind and The Great Gatsby, as well as in stories (rumors?) about some famous writers.

William Faulkner would sometimes go behind the bar at Musso & Frank Grill in L.A. to make himself a mint julep. Ernest Hemingway threw a fit and smashed his drinking glass against a wall at a bar in France, because the bartender served him a crappy mint julep.

Given the extreme reaction to his cocktail, my guess is the base spirit was something NOT bourbon. I mean, I get it. The man was heartbroken, obviously.

As luck would have it, an American tourist was also at that bar with friends. Seeing this outburst, he procured a bottle of Makers Mark from his satchel, thus calming the writer’s rage with a properly made drink.

I sometimes use Makers for this cocktail. Today, though, I’m using Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

 

julep2

 

The ingredients:

1 teaspoon sugar
Bunch of mint leaves
Crushed ice
2 ounces bourbon

Add the sugar.
Put the teaspoon of sugar in a mixing glass. I use Baker’s Sugar, which has finer, smaller granules than regular sugar, so it dissolves more quickly. If you’re using regular sugar, just add about a teaspoon of water to dissolve it completely.

Add the mint.
After you add the bunch of mint leaves in the mixing glass, just press them gently and firmly with your mixing spoon, or muddler. You want to extract the oils without tearing up the leaves.

 

muddlers

 

If you use a muddler, DO NOT pound the leaves; you’re not making a mojito! Besides, breaking the leaves releases its chlorophyll, which can make your julep taste a little bitter.

Add the ice and bourbon.
Pour some crushed ice on top of the mint leaves. Now add your bourbon, and give it a couple of stirs.

 

julep1

 

Work on the presentation.
The cocktail is almost ready for its big moment! Pour the mixture into a highball glass.

Heap more crushed ice, and place a mint sprig on top.

Stir until the glass feels chilled, then add a straw for sipping.

 

julep4

 

And now enjoy your summer day with another classic cocktail!
Cheers!


Sources:

The Mint Julep. The Right and Wrong Ways to Make the Simple Classic.
The Complete History of the Mint Julep