Drinking Berlin’s Milky Way with the Blessed Ones

Drinking Berlin’s Milky Way with the Blessed Ones

I’m a longtime fan of clarified Milk Punches. I love the smooth texture, the powerful taste and the weak alcoholic strength. I had my first clarified Milk Punch years ago in Paris and I have always wondered why you hardly find one on Germany’s bar menus. This drink is a perfect palate treat, can be pre-batched in large quantities, and surprises again and again with its varieties. You can find many articles and practical guidelines on the internet. Well, why am I writing about it? Clear as the Milk Punch itself: I want more Milk Punches to pop up on menus and remind the bartenders out there that this is an abso-fucking-lutely amazing drink. Milk Punch dates back nearly three centuries and has gone in and out fashion. Over the years, the recipe has been tested and adjusted.

I am a traveller of the international bar scene and what I have noticed about the Berlin bar scene in particular, is that is seems to be not very well connected. There are many reasons for this, but the best way to deal with a problem is to solve it. One year ago some bartenders in Berlin teamed up to build a network for bartenders. Blessed Ones is a community and the movers and shakers behind it are Konstantin Hennrich, Merlin Braun, Laura Marsueschke, Michael Blair, Dominic Bruckmann und Dennis Keiner.

Blessed Ones: a community of cocktail makers, mixers and movers, shakers and stirrers.

Their goal is to share knowledge and experience without the support of brands or big companies. Workshops and get-togethers are planned and the first one has already happened. Konstantin Hennrich, head behind Stairs bar, introduced Milk Punch to the participants. They don’t have it officially on the menu of Stairs but they always have some bottles waiting in the fridge. I can tell you that from my own experience because my first choice is always a Milk Punch. Actually, I had planned to observe their production process but when this workshop came along, it was an opportunity not to be missed. The main part of the workshop was making your own punch. Around twenty bartenders and two wordtenders spent a cheerful afternoon together dipping their toes into the alchemy of Milk Punches.

Once upon the time …

Milk Punch is both past and present at the same time. As always, and this is the fascinating thing about the history of cocktails, the details go far back and there are many stories about Milk Punch. Cocktail historian David Wondrich gives fascinating back stories of the history of Punches in one of his books, Punch. He reports the earliest known Milk Punch recipe by the housewife Mary Rockett in 1711. The recipe features a simple combination of brandy, lemon zest and juice, sugar, and water, which is clarified with milk. When acids are mixed with milk some magic, some alchemy, happens. The milk starts to curdle in a process known as milk coagulation. The acidity causes this coagulation which divides the milk into the curd and the clear liquid part, as simple as that. If you remove the curds by fine straining, the punch becomes clear. The main reason for doing this was certainly to preserve the drink but also to soften the flavour of the spirits, which were not of the same quality as today’s. It is an old but fantastic way to give drinks an extraordinary taste and texture.

Milk Punch represents both the past and the present cocktail evolution. The method marries different flavours to a silky and complex libation. It taste like the sum of its parts in a reduced yet elegant look.

Oh, by the way I am talking about clarified Milk Punch. There are two kinds of Milk Punch. Clarified or English and New Orleans Milk Punch, which is of course with milk but citrus free. Traditionally it was made with brandy, more recently with bourbon and a little bit of nutmeg. This mix stays milky and, be careful, also boozy. Michael Blair, one of our lovely Berlin Bartenders and part of the Blessed Ones community, has served it for many years. You can enjoy it at his bar, Fifty Cocktail Heroes. Let’s return to the clarified version.

It is a chemical reaction: the milk is broken up by the acid. You don’t need a lab to get a crystal clear concoction. You just need milk.

I had already helped to make some Milk Punch in preparation for the recent event at Provocateur, and I couldn’t believe that this was going to work. Combining loads of individual tasting ingredients together with milk and an acidic juice, does not look inviting at all. A nasty flocculated broth can become a clear drink? Are you serious?! The recipe is simple and fascinating, but you need a bit of patience and some straining. This results in a delicate taste and clear look.

Let’s turn words into action. The things I have learned from the Blessed Ones’ Milk Punch Workshop

Apart from the historical and chemical elements, it is important to understand the big picture. Konstantin Hennrich presented the basic formula of how Milk Punch is made at Stairs Bar. He and Kersten Wruck have experimented for a long time with the optimal formulation. Trial and error is the best method to find the right way, repeat and continue until success. Here is their recipe:

230 g Milk, animal or vegetable origin

450 g Filler (Tea, juices, water, wine, syrup …)

300 g Spirit (if you use liqueur reduce the amount of spirit)

90 g Sugar

80 g Acidic Liquid (acidic fruits or powder will do the job)

= The result should be 1 litre and around 9% vol.

Essential equipment you need: some containers for the liquids to mix and strain in, cheesecloth lining or coffee filter papers, clean sterilised bottles for the punch.

How to

  1. Mix all the ingredients together without the milk.
  2. Pour everything into the milk!!!
  3. Leave to coagulate and leave the mixture to stand for a minimum of one hour but preferably refrigerated overnight.
  4. Pour through the filter and monitor the stream. First it is a bit cloudy, but once the stream turns clear take a new container. The process removes the cloudiness from the drink as well as almost all the colour depending on the intensity of the base colour.
  5. Pour the first cloudy liquids back into the filter. It is not necessary to change or remove the milk stuff from the filter. It is essential and strengthens the filtering effect.
  6. Strain until clear.
  7. Bottle, label and store it in the fridge.

Taste regularly at any step!

All pictures were provided by © Natalia Kepesz

There are no rules but this is good to know

There are no rules and the opportunities are endless: the sort of milk, the alcohol, your choice of ingredients, the filtering process, the standing time, the sequence of pouring things together, the use of hot or cold milk and so on and so on. This is good to know:

  • Some recipes demand hot milk. There is no need to heat the milk: both cold and warm milk work.
  • Instead of cow’s milk you can use any vegetal milk. Nut milk gives some extra flavour and almond milk discolours the best. At Stairs they use Soy milk light from Alpro because so far this has given the best results.
  • Rice milk does not work.
  • Any spirit can be used and combined with any filler like tea, juice etc.
  • If you like it more boozy use overproof spirit.
  • Leave the Punch to stand during coagulation. Be patient.
  • Filtration works with common cheesecloth or coffee filter paper. Soak it with water before use.
  • If you can invest €30-50, a superbag strainer is perfect for more quantity, washable and reusable. Professional filtration systems like candle filters provide a more automated production process but require a large investment of more than €1,500.
  • If you have more time, let the sediment descend for a whole day, then take a tube and aspirate the liquid, straining it through a filter. You can strain the sediment afterwards so as not to waste a drop.
  • You can use the cheese to make dessert or some food-pairing for the drink.
  • You can change the sequence you add the ingredients. Some curdle the milk first, add the nonalcoholic parts and filter. The spirit is added later, after clarification. If you use an aged spirit the consequence is that the punch can have the harsh notes of the booze and is not clear.
  • Go crazy and barrel age your result.

Most important things learned: Add the punch base to the milk and not vice versa. The more milk punch you make, the better you get at it.

What’s in it for me?

From my side of the bar counter I was in love from the very first sip. Milk Punches are delicious, complex, smooth as silk and velvety in texture. They are low in alcohol without losing the backbone of a real cocktail experience. This is a forever drink.

Pros for bartenders

  • Milk punch can be made from almost any spirit and combined with nearly everything. You can recycle all the free goods, samples and sponsored spirits.
  • There are infinite flavour variations and innumerous great recipes: surprise your guests again and again.
  • You can marry and soften flavours, alcohol and tannins become less harsh. Tea with milk for example is used to smooth out the bitter notes of black tea. You will have surprising results using barrel aged spirits.
  • It can be batched in advance. You need just a nice glass a block of ice and you have more time for your guests.
  • You can pre-batch a large amount.
  • After clarification, the punch keeps almost forever, in any case more than half a year
  • You have controlled cost of material
  • It is the perfect low ABV drink with finesse

Where there are pros, of course there are also cons

  • If you don’t have the time, you can’t have this punch.
  • If you don’t have the patience … you have to leave the punch to stand overnight and you need to strain it a few times.
  • The clarification process is tedious and time consuming: you can expect three days. Filtration lasts the longest but does not need to be supervised all the time.
  • You need some space for the preparation and the straining containers.
  • It can’t be produced during service.

Thank you Blessed Ones, I am looking forward to your upcoming workshop. I am ready for a self-experiment. Milk Punches are easy to make at home and we all have some unopened bottles on our shelves. There will be another adventure coming soon. If you have any comments let me know.