Classic Cocktails from A-Z: Milk Punch

December 13, 2012

Some things just go together -- and the obvious accompaniment to food is drink. Welcome to Booze52, in which we explore all manner of libations, from A to Z, that do much more than just wash down a meal.

Today: A time-tested sibling of eggnog to have on standby this holiday season.

Shop the Story

December is a time for wassail and revelry. As a noun, wassail refers to mulled or spiced wine. The verb, however, calls for us to “drink plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoy oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.”

And so I apply this verb quite readily to the tradition-steeped milk punch, a dairy-meets-liquor drink that once warmed many a frostbitten medieval peasant and his lady. The drink has stayed loyal to the holiday season, a no-fail companion to gingerbread, plum pudding and all manner of wintry treats.

Any kind of search on milk punch will reveal that Benjamin Franklin practically owns the brand, having sent a famous recipe to his friend James Bowdoin back in October of, oh, you know, 1763. Milk punch is historically akin to a posset -- milk combined with an acidic liquid like wine or citrus, which curdles the milk. Palates in the Middle Ages may have sipped this merrily, but I prefer a smoother approach. (But we've accounted for you all -- find variations to please any taste below.)

Here it is: a spirited combination of rum, brandy and splash of water, all stirred into a sugar base and layered with good, creamy milk. It’s a close cousin of eggnog, sans the eggs. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t trim a tree without some kind of rum-spiked beverage standing by.

Holiday Milk Punch 

2 teaspoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons water
2 ounces brandy
1 ounce aged rum
¼ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons half-and-half or heavy cream
Ground nutmeg

Put sugar in a small bowl. Add water, stir until sugar is dissolved. Add rum and brandy. 

Combine milk and cream; place in shaker with some ice. Add rum mixture and shake well. Strain into an Irish Coffee glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg and enjoy.

Save and print this recipe here.

You're the bartender -- want to bend the rules? Here are some variations: 

• Citrus or no? Even a small amount of lemon juice makes the milk curdle up a bit, which, when strained, will help stabilize your punch (great for larger groups and punch bowls). 
• Want a little extra flavor? A splash of almond or vanilla extract adds another layer to the drink.

• Some like it hot, but most like it cold. If you plan to serve it punch-style in a bowl, chill it down with a large ice ring. If you are huddled and shivering by the fireplace, warm the milk gently on the stove, add the rum mixture (no need for the shaker), and omit the ice.
• Serve a crowd. To drink like they did in the days of old, try this recipe. It requires 24 hours of steeping and several rounds of straining to remove the milk curds, but die-hard punch drinkers will appreciate your efforts. (If you go for it, make sure you tell us all about the results!) 

Photos by James Ransom 

Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker
View Maker
Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker

Choose your holiday adventure! Our Automagic Menu Maker is here to help.

View Maker

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • em-i-lis
  • Marian Bull
    Marian Bull
  • Kenzi Wilbur
    Kenzi Wilbur
I spend about an equal amount of time behind the laptop and behind the stove. In between preparing and writing about food, I love to hang out with my husband, three children, big shaggy dog and two cats. History is also my thing, especially the Regency period, U.S. Westward expansion and World War II. Favorite drinks: good pinot noirs and classic martinis. Favorite book: Pride & Prejudice. Favorite obsessions: Laura Ingalls Wilder and South Dakota


em-i-lis December 13, 2012
Hooray, hoorah!!! Disclaimer: I am a Louisiana gal but even with that said, milk punches ROCK!!!
Marian B. December 13, 2012
Ooh, I want mine with vanilla.
Kenzi W. December 13, 2012
Wassail, indeed.