What is Milk Punch?

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  • Written By: Laura Evans
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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No one knows the exact origins of milk punch. Today, this punch is associated with brunches in New Orleans. The basics of milk punch are milk, a liquor such as bourbon or rum, and a sweetener.

United States inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) knew of a variation of this punch theme that he referred to as "milk punch," enclosing the recipe to Massachusetts politician James Bowdoin (1726-1790) in a letter dated October, 1873. Franklin's recipe called for a combination lemon juice, brandy, lemon zest, sugar, whole milk, freshly grated nutmeg, and spring water. According to the recipe, after soaking the lemon zest in the brandy overnight and then removing the zest, all of the ingredients except the milk are combined. The milk is brought to a boil and then added to the brandy mixture, which will curdle. Punch must be allowed to sit for two hours before being strained until the liquid is clear, after which the punch is served cold.

Smallpox, a disease that was eradicated from the world in 1977, was a highly infectious and potentially deadly viral infection that was characterized by small pock marks and scars left on the skin. This disease was no stranger to the eastern areas of the United States from the mid-17th century to the beginning of the 20th century. One of the early "treatments" for smallpox, including for children, was milk punch.


American bartender Jerry Thomas (1830-1885) made cocktails mainstream. One of the recipes in his 1862 book, The Bar-Tender's Guide was for California milk punch. This punch is much more complex than Franklin's recipe, including ingredients such as pineapple, green tea, coriander seeds, and cinnamon sticks as well as Jamaican rum, brandy, and Batavia Arrack. The beverage was meant to be bottled and enjoyed cold at a later date.

Today's milk punch recipes can be easy to make. Many recipes simply call for a shaker, a strainer, ice, bourbon, sugar, milk, vanilla, and nutmeg, with a glass to carry the drink. Variations might include half-and-half for milk, superfine or powdered sugar for regular sugar or brandy for bourbon. Some recipes suggest leaving out milk and vanilla completely and substituting vanilla ice cream.

Of course, people can stray from the mainstream and try hot molasses milk punch, which includes dark run, molasses, and ginger, or a whiskey milk punch drink using blended whiskey instead of brandy, bourbon or rum. Those who are truly adventurous can go back through time and try one of the old recipes such as that of Benjamin Franklin.


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Post 3

There is a bar close to my house that serves milk punch shots for a dollar around the holidays. They are not very strong but they are really tasty.

Post 2

Milk punch is one of my favorite recipes for punch. I have a legendary holiday party every year and I always serve up milk punch instead of egg nog. I like the flavor better and it does not sit as heavily in the stomach.

I also always make mine with bourbon rather than rum. I have had it with rum and it is all right but I think the spice of the liquor throws off the flavor of the punch. Bourbon blends better.

Post 1

Milk punch is one of my favorite holiday punch recipes. It is so tasty and so unique. Most people walk up to a punch bowl and expect to see a neon red concoction with pineapple slices floating in it. Milk punch comes as a classy surprise to those who do not know what to expect.

I first had it when I went to a classy party In New Orleans. I tried it, loved it, and immediately tracked the host down to ask her for the recipe. I made a few minor variations to reflect my own tastes, but by and large it is the same recipe that I use today.

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