This 1700s cocktail method is having a 21st century moment

Oh, milk punch, a fickle, delicious icon of the cocktail world. Strap in, thirsty friends, this is a juicy, clarifying read. You’ve probably heard of milk punch, or seen it in passing on a bar menu. Although it first emerged to the curious modern drinker in the early aughts, milk punch didn’t really hit the mainstream until the early 2010s.

I was first introduced to Clarified Milk Punch in all its tasty glory in 2015 via the brilliant hospitality and skilled enthusiasm of bartender Gareth Howells. I’m sure lots of talented folks in the beverage industry were making exciting milk punches at the time, but it was Howells—who was running the drinks program at Forrest Point bar in Brooklyn (RIP) at the time—that taught me what milk punch is and why it is so extraordinary.

That said, let’s go back to the beginning. After all, good drinks always taste better when there’s a little history behind them.

Many don’t yet realize this, but the pioneers who brought alcoholic drinks to the fore centuries ago were more often than not, women. Beer? Women. Wine? Women. Spirits, liqueurs and cordials? Also, women. As it turns out, milk punch is no different. (Though, unlike beer and wine, milk punch was not created to avoid sickness from drinking non-potable water.)

The invention of the Clarified Milk Punch—not to be confused with the creamy, nog-esque variation just known as milk punch or New Orleans Milk Punch—is largely credited to Aphra Behn, a 17th-century English author, and playwright, who also worked as a royal spy for King Charles II (#goals). There are additional theories that credit the origins to another British gal, Mary Rockett, who is recognized as the first person to actually write down her milk punch recipe in 1711. Either way, both ladies made a lasting global impact on drinking culture as we know it today.

If you’ve sipped a milk punch before, you know that it’s glassy and clear—not opaque and creamy like its name implies—which is an aesthetically decadent result of clarification. Giving a complex, explosive melody of flavors with a luxurious, velvety texture, the milk punch has grown to be revered by those who enjoy it.

For context, when building a cocktail recipe maintaining balance is (typically) key. Too much of one ingredient can throw the whole drink off. Not so with milk punch. Literally, more is more. Bartenders around the world have experimented with endless pairings of teas, herbs, cordials, juices, coffees, spices, spirits, and flavor combinations. That’s the beauty of the cocktail: There are really no rules when it comes to the palate. As long as you’re mixing everything in the right order (more on that later), get as weird as you like. It’s a fever dream of flavor, and not only that, the drink is notorious for packing a, well, punch (I’ll see myself out). It’s significantly boozy, but light in body, and is simultaneously both perfectly crushable and elegant—not to mention a major flex for any home bartender to craft.


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