Clarified milk cocktails are trending at St. Louis bars
Clarified milk cocktails have enjoyed a revival over the past few years, but you may not realize how far back this intriguing technique goes. Mary Rockett wrote the earliest milk punch recipe on record in 1711, but the technique’s roots are believed to go back at least to the 1600s.
“It’s an interesting process because it’s so old, but it’s very tried and true,” Planter’s House co-owner Ted Kilgore said. Indeed, Kilgore’s experiments with this venerable technique drew inspiration from a recipe in Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide, published in 1862 and widely considered the first cocktail recipe book.
The basic preparation typically involves combining milk with at least one spirit, citrus fruit (often the peel and the juice), sugar, spices and perhaps tea or herbs. Whole milk is often preferred, though, with a bit of experimentation, other milks can work. Once all the ingredients have been combined, they are typically refrigerated and then strained. While the whole process traditionally takes at least 24 to 48 hours, the Planter’s crew has reduced their production time to about 12 hours thanks to the use of a sous vide bath. At Platypus, co-owner and bartender Tony Saputo likes to make clarified milk drinks over four or five days. “Each step is a day, and I just let it rest in the cooler for a day after each step,” he said.
Lazy Tiger and Yellowbelly co-owner Tim Wiggins said some drinkers assume a clarified milk punch will be milky or creamy in appearance or flavor, but it’s quite the opposite. The clarification process separates the milk solids from the cocktail mixture. This separation not only strips the milk of its characteristic flavor, but it also removes color and mellows the flavors of the liquor and other ingredients. The result is a wonderfully clear drink that is also shelf stable for up to a year, Kilgore said.
Clarified milk doesn’t add much flavor to a drink, but it makes a fantastic team player, adding texture and complexity. “It washes the tannins of the alcohol and spices or whatever you put in there,” Kilgore said. “It mellows it and combines it into one big, juicy flavor.” Saputo said clarified milk gives cocktails a three-dimensional quality. “Rather than tasting all the flavors at the same time, you experience each of them individually,” he said.
Kilgore likes using overproof spirits (spirits with higher than the standard 80 proof) in clarified milk punch, as well as earthy, funky flavors. “Martinique rum, cognac – all those things are very terroir driven,” Kilgore said. A recent clarified milk punch recipe at Planter’s House blended green chile vodka, mezcal, hopped pineapple liqueur, coriander, cinnamon, black tea, lime zest and an ancho reyes verde liqueur.
For his part, Wiggins prefers using gin and rum. “I’ve found those to be the most fun because you need a spirit that just has some sharpness and robust flavor,” he said. Lazy Tiger’s current milk punch is the Budgy Smuggler, a passion fruit, carrot, blood orange vermouth and Applewood gin cocktail. “So much of it is about the presentation and just the wow factor of this very unassuming glass of very pale liquid that, when you drink [it], is exploding with all these flavors,” Wiggins said.
Best of all for the bartender, clarified milk punches can be premade and don’t need to be shaken, though they can be. “You get these cool cocktails that are super easy to produce on the spot,” said Saputo. “It’s a little bit of legwork on the front end, but behind the bar it’s literally just pour and go.”
1000 Mississippi Ave., St. Louis, 314.696.2603, plantershousestl.com