Milk Punch Finally Heads North (and West)

The Southern classic has finally left home.

Beneath the Mason-Dixon, drinkers have their ladles out for the seasonal slosh of Milk Punch, the bourbon or brandy cocktail that is just now getting around to seeking its fortune up north – and out west. The most notable modern purveyor of the cloudy stuff? LA’s Providence, which offers a sweet, cinnamon-infused take with soy milk called “Clouds Over California.” It’s catching on with people who’ve never even considered spending a joyeux noel in Louisiana, which marks a first in the drink’s long history.

Here’s what you need to know.

What exactly is milk punch?

Traditionally, the drink is made with bourbon, whole milk, vanilla extract, simple syrup, and topped with freshly ground nutmeg. “It’s a straightforward style of cocktail, kind of like an eggless-nog,” says Providence Head Bartender John Richard Thomas Jackson. The drink is savory and hardy, so it’s perfect for winter nights. “At the same time, it’s not as heavy as a traditional eggnog and is served on ice, so it works during the springtime as well.”

What is its history?

Milk punch was a popular drink in Colonial America up until WWII, consumed not only for its taste, but for its medicinal properties. Apparently, it gave Yankee rebels back there spirits. After that, it became more closely associated with Confederate rebels and the city of New Orleans.

Are there varieties?

Why yes, yes there are. Bartenders have been playing around with mixing milk and liquor a lot of late. “In the past year or so, I’ve seen a lot of clarified versions, meaning the cold ingredients are combined with hot milk, and when the milk curdles, the mixture is filtered until it is clear, which can be rather time consuming,” says Jackson.

Where Can I Try Some?

Blenheim, New York, NY

Jonathan Russell spent years perfecting the recipe for his milk punch, introducing it at Blenheim in the West Village. The “e.m.p.” is a concoction of Smith and Cross rum, Batavia Arrack, black tea and citrus, and farm whey (fresh from the farms in the Catskills).

Commander’s Palace, New Orleans

Milk Punch is a mainstay on New Orleans brunch menus, and the Commander’s Palace specialty recipe certainly does the city proud. The recipe features 2-percent milk, bourbon, egg whites, sugar, vanilla extract, ice, and ground nutmeg in a sweet and frothy concoction that will bring joy to your brunch.

Vie, Western Springs, IL

Chef Paul Virant’s “Sweet Milk Punch” is a deceptively potent concoction, with caramel and hazelnut notes from the milk jam and frangelico masking the impact of the bourbon. These ingredients are then stirred with whole milk and Triple Sec and served in a punch bowl.

Celeste, Chicago

Chicago’s hottest cocktail lounge and supper club offers guests a contemporary twist on the classic milk punch cocktail, served on draft. The “Golden Filigree” is made with Remy VSOP cognac, Plantation dark rum, Very Old Barton bourbon, and milk whey.

Brennan’s of Houston, Houston

Although the “Brandy Milk Punch” is technically “off menu” at Brennan’s of Houston, it is still one of the most popular beverages at the restaurant. Taking the breakfast cocktail route, it is made with milk, brandy, sugar, vanilla extract, and is sprinkled with freshly ground nutmeg.

Providence, Los Angeles

Jackson’s personal recipe is a modern take on a classic milk punch using cinnamon-infused soymilk. “I like to use Daily soymilk, which comes from the Torrance area near LA, because it’s a bit more viscous than what you’d find at the grocery store,” he says. He also uses potato vodka and white rum instead of the traditional brandy, then sprinkles on some white pepper, Ras al Hanout, cardamom, and cloves. He grates nutmeg over the top because there is something to be said for tradition.

Photos by Jessica Boone / Getty Images