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Top Shelf: Meet The Old-School Cocktail Our Drinks Editor Calls The ‘Best On The Planet’

As the author/creator of Top Shelf, I like to think that I know a thing or two about unusual, old-timey, classic, or forgotten drinks. Then my editor, Steve Bramucci, told me about the best cocktail he’d ever had, and that it was called milk punch. Two things occurred to me. One: I’d maybe heard of Milk Punch, but if I had, I’d probably assumed it was another name for eggnog, and not given it a second thought. Two: He said it was the best cocktail he’d ever had–the BEST–and I’d never even tried it. I immediately started doing research.

English Milk Punch is an old drink, served since the 1700s. It can count among its fans Benjamin Franklin, who even had his own recipe for the drink. Though old, the punch lends itself to intelligent experimentation. The basic drink is a combination of two parts that don’t seem like they’d work together: Part one is our old friend and ally in the cocktail world — the delicious trinity of rum, sugar, and citrus; Part two is hot milk and spices.

Put these together, and what happens? They curdle! Yes, exactly what you thought would happen, and yet, the drink still works. And how!


Once combined, the mixture is strained until the resulting beverage is clear, curdle-free, and delicious. The milk solids are removed while the milk fats stay behind, giving the drink rounded body that is bizarre to describe but incredible to drink. Steve calls it, “The most Hogwarts-seeming alcohol I can imagine. It’s magical.”

It’s also a drink that begs to be served at a spring brunch party. Though it takes some time and forethought to prepare, the majority of it can be done beforehand, giving you plenty of time to enjoy a glass or two with your guests the morning of the event.

If you won’t take my word for it, that’s more than okay, because I’ve brought reinforcements in the form of Darwin Pornel, Lead Bartender at Faith & Flower in Los Angeles.

Darwin Pornel 4

Faith & Flower, a contemporary restaurant in DTLA’s South Park District, has a bar program that celebrates the classic cocktails of the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties. These are sumptuous, beautifully-made, handcrafted drinks utilizing unusual ingredients, high quality spirits, and a great respect for the craft of the cocktail.


With two Milk Punches on the menu–one of which was the punch my editor so enthusiastically endorsed–there was no question as to who I would go to to discuss this oft-forgotten party beverage. My conversation with Darwin Pornel:

So how did Milk Punch come to be featured on Faith & Flower’s menu? What has been the guest response?

I believe Michael Lay’s intent to include the English Milk Punch on the initial menu was to keep with the vibe and decor at Faith & Flower. (Author’s note: Michael Lay, former Lead Bartender at Faith & Flower, developed the English Milk Punch recipe in 2014, when the restaurant opened).

The restaurant exudes 1920’s glamour, and he wanted to create drinks that maybe would have been popular in that era. The English Milk Punch was originally from Jerry Thomas in 1862, and our current recipe is a modern interpretation of that. It’s basically the definition of our cocktail menus here at Faith & Flower; classic and sophisticated, visualized through a modern scope.

We’ve decided to keep it on the menu through all the changes because it’s become a staple here. After it won Esquire’s Cocktail of the Year 2014, we knew there was no way for us to remove it from the menu without Los Angeles being very upset with us. Due to its popularity, we would often run out of milk punch before the end of dinner services. Since then, we’ve installed a consistent production schedule, so it’s very rare that we run out of punch.


Wow — this cocktail obviously has quite the following!

Before I started working at Faith and Flower, I came in for dinner a few months after they had opened. One of my friends was a server there, and I asked him to just “bring me whatever.” Sure enough, the first thing I had in front of me was the English Milk Punch, which instantly blew my mind. I went home that night and did all the research I could, eventually finding the Jerry Thomas recipe from 1862. The next day, I went ahead and tried to recreate the cocktail. It was a lot harder then since my apartment lacked the proper equipment, and I ended up making a huge mess in my tiny kitchen. Totally worth it though.

Alright, so if we want to go ahead and do the same at home, what are some tips and tricks you can share with us to ensure that our efforts are well-worth it?

Patience is key. Allowing the punch to have enough time between each step is incredibly necessary. Temperature, acidity, and ABV are important when considering the addition of the milk, since they all affect the clarity of the final product. I think the most significant part of the cocktail is the overall balance, in respect to what you’re tasting, and what you’re experiencing in terms of texture and mouthfeel. The goal of adding milk is definitely not to make the punch creamy, or even impart the flavor of milk, but to give the drink a mellow, velvety finish. A lot of times we have guests who question if there is in fact milk in our milk punch. Every single time, they take a sip and say “Oh, I get it.”

And what should we watch out for? Any commonly made mistakes we should avoid when making an English Milk Punch?

The most common mistake is not allowing the punch to just hang out for the proper amount of time. If the process is rushed, the end product could be a lot cloudier than desired, and you won’t get the same mouthfeel. Also make sure to use ripe pineapples and fresh juice.

Ready to make a bowl of punch for your friends? Have at it, with this Faith & Flower recipe. Cheers!

English Milk Punch – Serves 10-12

Ingredients:

  • Peel of 4 lemons
  • 1 Pineapple
  • 20 Coriander seeds
  • 3 Cloves
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 Star anise pod
  • 1 lb Sugar
  • Juice of 6 lemons
  • 8 oz Appleton Estate 12 Year rum
  • 8 oz Smith & Cross Jamaican rum
  • 8 oz Bacardi 8 Year rum
  • 6 oz Bulleit bourbon
  • 8 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840
  • 6 oz Battavia Arrack van Oosten
  • 4 oz Absinthe Mata Hari
  • 1 oz Peychauds bitters (or Angostura)
  • 8 oz Brewed Sencha green tea
  • 14 oz Boiling water
  • 40 oz milk
  • Juice of 2 lemons


Directions:

  • Add the lemon peels to a large airtight container.
  • Peel and cut the pineapple into large chunks and add them to the lemon peels in the container.
  • Coarsely grind the spices with a mortar and pestle.
  • Add the spices to the container, along with the sugar and the juice of 6 lemons. Muddle the mixture.
  • Pour in the brewed green tea and stir to mix. Pour in 1 cup of boiling water and immediately cover so that the liquid doesn’t evaporate. Let sit overnight. Then strain the mixture into a clean container and add the rums.
  • Bring the milk to a boil. Add the boiling milk and the juice of 2 lemons to the strained rum mixture. The milk will coagulate.
  • Using a fine chinois lined with cheese cloth, strain the liquid a little at a time. you may have to stop and replace the cheese cloth when it has too much milk buildup.
  • Pour the liquid into a container, cover, place in the refrigerator, and leave it overnight so that the remaining milk solids settle.
  • Ladle the clarified punch from the top of the container, being careful not to disturb the solids at the bottom.
  • Strain the punch again if desired. Serve over ice.

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