Resident cocktail connoisseur Eric Twardzik mixes up a tasty alternative to the typical Yuletide glass of eggnog, that you can easily make at home with just a few ingredients.
For many, the first encounter with milk punch feels like a bait-and-switch. You order a cup at a fancy cocktail bar expecting something creamy, but instead receive a clear, colorful drink that you learn is clarified milk punch, with nothing from the original dairy remaining but lactic acid.
There’s nothing wrong with these milk punches, which are often delicious and require a great deal of effort to prepare. But brandy milk punch is real-deal creamy and mixed up in minutes with basic pantry staples and a bottle of brandy.
Colonial drinkers enjoyed mixing dairy with their brandy, but the combination really came into its own in New Orleans, where it’s employed as both a hair-of-the-dog morning remedy and a holiday treat. The city’s French heritage may have made brandy the traditional choice, but the concoction is just as often served with bourbon, rum, or even a combination of the two.
In truth, any of these dark spirits will prove an excellent counterweight to the milk, simple syrup, and touch of vanilla extract that make up the rest of the drink. But I lean on brandy both for tradition’s sake and its wonderful warming quality, which can act like an instant fireplace, no hearth required.
When it comes to selecting a brandy, you can’t go wrong with Cognac, though you shouldn’t feel pressured to reach for the highest shelf. However, I’ve come to enjoy using Cognac’s lesser-known cousin, Armagnac. A fellow French brandy with appellation d'origine contrôlée status. Armagnac differs in that it is typically younger in age and lower in alcohol—allowing its fruity, floral flavors to better rise above the milk and cream without taking you down in the process.
Another aspect of brandy milk punch seems particularly suited to 2020: its single-serving status. Realities on the ground mean that many punch bowls may lie fallow this holiday season, but this particular punch can be shaken on demand for a small circle of revelers, no ladling required.
But above all, brandy milk punch is what I like to think of as a “pyjama cocktail”: the type of dram that’s best-enjoyed first thing on a holiday morning, preferably beside hot coffee, fresh pastries, and your closest company. With such delights at hand, we might remember all we have to be thankful for during a particularly strange and difficult year.
Of course, having a cocktail is not required for such an epiphany—but it never hurts.
New Orleans Brandy Milk Punch
60 ml brandy
60 ml whole milk
30 ml simple syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Nutmeg, for garnish
Add brandy, milk, simple syrup and vanilla extract to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until chilled, about ten seconds. Double strain into a chilled rocks glass over ice. Garnish with grated nutmeg.