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The Milk Punch Moment

by | Jun 20, 2021

Milk Punch is a classic New Orleans drink that’s been around in some form since at least the 17th century. The earliest recorded milk punch recipe dates to 1711 and is attributed to housewife Mary Rockett. That recipe calls for a gallon of brandy, five quarts of water, eight lemons and two pounds of sugar. Then she boiled two gallons of milk, which she strained through a flannel bag. 

Benjamin Franklin wrote a recipe for milk punch in a letter dated 1763. Not surprisingly, his recipe is boozier and less sweet than Mary’s recipe, but sticks to the same basic formula, with bonus nutmeg.

Milk punch, typically made today in the South with bourbon, brandy, whole milk, vanilla extract and sugar, has a refreshingly creamy taste. Like many early cocktails, it’s designed to soften the rough edges of early booze.

I chose to make three recipes: the first a creamy, unclarified-milk cocktail with bourbon of the type you’re likely to get if you order it in New Orleans. The second recipe, Mary Rockett’s, and the third, Franklin’s, call for clarified milk, which means the milk solids are strained out, leaving a clear liquid. I modified Mary’s recipe only a tiny bit, to better reflect the popular recipe contemporary bartenders are using to make the clarified version without using heat. That one is my favorite.  

From left: Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch in a jar and a coupe, Creamy New Orleans Milk Punch in a tall glass, and Mary Rockett’s Citrus Milk Punch in a glass and a blue jar. photo/Jessie Lacey

Creamy New Orleans Milk Punch

  • 3 oz whole milk
  • 1 1/2 oz bourbon
  • 1/2 oz brandy
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • grated nutmeg

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a glass. Then strain the drink again into a low-ball glass. The garnish is important here! Grate a little nutmeg for the perfect spiced touch.

Mary Rockett’s Citrus Milk Punch

  • 4 oz brandy
  • 2 oz whole milk
  • 4 oz water
  • 1 oz sugar
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • ½ oz orange juice

In large liquid measuring cup or large bowl, whisk brandy, water, sugar, lemon juice and orange juice until sugar dissolves. Pour milk into a large jar, then pour the brandy mixture into the milk. Gently stir curds with small spoon. Let sit for at least a half hour or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Line fine-mesh strainer with a coffee filter and set over large measuring cup or bowl. Gently pour brandy-milk mixture into coffee filter and let drain. Then drain the strained punch mixture through the curds in the coffee filter one more time. Discard curds and coffee filter. Transfer clarified punch to lidded glass container and refrigerate until ready to serve. (This recipe makes 4 servings.)

Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch

  • 2 cups of brandy
  • 3 lemons
  • ⅔ cups lemon juice
  • 1 ⅓ cup water
  • ⅓ freshly grated nutmeg
  • ⅓ cup of sugar 
  • 1 cup of whole milk

Zest lemons and steep the lemon zest in the brandy for 24 hours. Strain out the lemon zest. Add water, freshly grated nutmeg, lemon juice and sugar to the brandy and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring the whole milk to a boil, then add it hot to a big jar, add brandy mix and stir. The heat, lemon juice, and alcohol will begin to curdle the milk. Let the punch stand for 2 hours, then strain the punch through a filter until clear. Serve cold. (This recipe makes 6 servings.)

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