Milk Punch. Milk Punch? Oh, you mean Milk Punch.

Last month when I was Craigie on Main, one of the bartenders said something to me about a milk punch. It was odd-looking and, based on the look on his face, not where they wanted it yet so I forgot all about it until…

I started reading Anne Mendelson’s book Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages Where –lo and behold!– at the end of the first recipe section there’s a recipe for…milk punch!

Last week, thanks to an ex-neighbor, I fell into volume’s 6-9 of Mary Margaret McBride’ s Encyclopedia of Cooking (This must have been 1958’s  Modernist Cuisine. It is twelve volumes of awesome! ) And there, on page 1344, in the spot-on ‘Home Bartender’s Guide’, there’s a recipe for…you guessed it, milk punch.

Finally, to close the circle, Craigie’s FB newsfeed announced this week that they had perfected their milk punch! Which is to say the same style milk punch that they were working on last month. Which is not the same milk punch featured in Mendelson or McBride. Because there are two different drinks called milk punch. In fact, I’m going to split hairs and suggest that there are three.

Historical lineage suggests that the milk punch Craigie is serving  is the ‘authentic’ one. The other two are kind of an adolescent nog and a proto-White Russian.

So what the heck is Milk Punch?

The ‘real’ milk punch is a spirit infused with spices, citrus and whey. Whey is the liquid part of milk. Hence milk punch. It is a graduate of some pretty ancient foodways, specifically posset, syllabub and whey wine. Time, flavorings and ratios are different in these products but the concept is the same in all of them: milk is curdled by the acids in alcohol, the acids in citrus, heat or all three. The curds are strained off for milk punch and whey wine leaving a silky, aromatic beverage. The curds remain for texture in posset and in syllabub.

Over the years makers have figured out that you can produce a wide range of flavors by using different spirits, flavoring the spirits and using different citrus.

Whey contains lactose so milk punch probably won’t sit easily with lactose-intolerant folk. Milk punch that is made without heat (milk liqueur) allows the curd to separate over weeks rather than overnight may have some native yeast or bacteria activity and thus contain slightly less lactose. Casein is the protein that forms the curds that get skimmed off, so milk punch will be largely free of casein, but it is probably still not safe for those with a severe milk protein allergy.

The other milk punch is a popular holiday substitution for eggnog. It is made in batches, typically with a dark spirit (rum, bourbon, brandy etc.) dairy (whole milk to heavy cream!) and the typical flavors of the yule –vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. The concoction is frozen until slushy, then served in chilled glasses. Texture is imparted from the freezing and the mouth feel of the dairy you use.

The other other milk punch is made one serving at a time. The most famous is a Brandy Milk Punch that is associated with New Orleans, but McBride’s Recipe uses rye and really any spirit will probably do it. Because there is no heating, resting, or infusing, flavor has to be added via syrups, liqueurs or garnishes. It is served shaken if you want it frothy, or stirred for a smoother drink.

All three concepts are considered ‘hair of the dog’ remedies because of the protein content and alkalinity of the milk (and of course the spirit).  Milk punch is hot right now so go have (make?) some milk and bore impress your friends by knowing what it is and isn’t.

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