Brandy milk punch, a brunchtime eye-opener at Sylvain.

Get milk punched with a centuries-old festive drink!

Milk Punch is an old soul but a drink that’s always searching for modern interpretations and open to experimentation.

And by milk punch, I mean the creamy traditional whiskey or brandy-laden milk punch with notes of vanilla and a nutmeg aroma, sipped as an eye opener at brunchtime fêtes—not the clarified (crystal clear and bottled for shelf stability) variety currently having a resurgence in the craft cocktail world.

However, that big batch of milky punch so lovingly funneled in gallon proportions for parties throughout the holidays (or year-round in New Orleans) doesn’t have to be so dang traditional.

Sure, milk punch tastes like Christmas morning to families up and down the Mississippi, but adjusting the traditional recipe is not nearly as sacrilege as tampering with intent to alter the family cornbread dressing recipe—or Miss Winkie’s famous caramel cake.

Dairy + Spirits + Sweetener + Vanilla
Milk punch during Christmas in my family has always been a sensitive thing. Everyone has preferences on the booze and milk fat content, but one didn’t dare tamper with the basic recipe—or it wasn’t milk punch.

My father currently makes milk punch with cheap lite rum, skim milk and sucralose (Splenda), and loves to reveal what’s actually in it (humble, basic, sucralose?), laughing about how everyone loves it!

Even though Scotch milk punch was always “allowed,” years ago you didn’t dare show up with something crazy like cinnamon milk punch (Oh, horrors!), as their nephew once did—and ultimately helped us break a boundary.

By the time the next generation got to a full-on, create your own Milk Punch Tasting and Contest in defiance of their milk punch snobbery, however, everyone was done. (Jefferson Bourbon and chocolate almond milk was a huge hit that year.)

Now it’s like…almond milk, 2%, heavy cream, fancy bourbon, blended whisky, honey, stevia, pumpkin spice, turmeric, whatever, who cares!

You make and bring your own—no (outward) judgments!

We’ll leave your great-grandmother’s old fashioned Southern cheese straw recipe alone (a time-honored and utterly perfect pairing), but come on, let’s have a little fun with the milk punch.

Upgrade the base spirit at very least (or split the base, see below), swap out the sweetener or mix and match flavors that love cream and will be a dreamy combo.

There’s always room for improving the classics and variations on milk punch are endless!

Basic batch milk punch recipe 
3 cups spirit (bourbon, rum, brandy or a combination of spirits)
6 cups milk (or cream or combination)
1/2 cup sweetener (simple syrup, honey or maple syrup)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 

Empty gallon milk jug and set milk aside. Funnel a bottle of spirit into milk jug. Add sugar and shake vigorously. Funnel enough milk back to the jug and add vanilla. Shake and chill.

Here are 7 inspiring ways to shake up traditional milk punch because it’s always fun to break the “rules.” 



1Split the base

To “split the base” in cocktail terms means using more than one base spirit in  combination to add a depth of flavors. For example, use both bourbon and Caribbean rum to split the base and create a more complex milk punch. At Cavan in New Orleans, the Trinity Milk Punch splits the base three ways: Cognac, bourbon and brandy!

2Add a liqueur!

The no-dieting holiday season is a splendid time to reach for those liqueurs in the back of the liquor cabinet or gathering dust on the bar cart! Some classics to consider: creme de cacao, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua (try Chili Chocolate Milk Punch!) and nutty liqueurs such as Nocello walnut and hazelnut liqueur and Evangeline’s Praline Pecan Liqueur.

3Infuse simple syrup

The traditional make-at-home milk jug method calls for the sugar to be shaken in the jug to dissolve rather than making a syrup—and it works remarkably well. However, making an infused simple syrup is an easy way to add flavors. Try spiced simple syrup made with cinnamon, allspice, cloves and black peppercorns in this Calvados Milk Punch.

4Be a barrista!

Think latte-style concoctions and blend your own milk with flavors such as cinnamon, cacao powder or matcha. Choose the base spirit according to the flavor i.e. chocolate + bourbon, matcha + Japanese whiskey and cinnamon + aged rum.

5Unsweeten the deal

If avoiding sugar, a sugar substitute such as raw local honey adds nutritional benefits (and pairs beautifully with Scotch or Bourbon) while options such as stevia and Swerve do not affect blood sugar. Choose according to the crowd!

6Amp up the ice!

Freeze craft cocktail-style jumbo cubes of ice for each serving or make flavored ice such as cold brew! As the ice melts, it will impart complementary flavors into the milk punch.

7Add a floater

If the family milk punch recipe is simply too sentimental to break tradition, consider offering an optional “floater” when serving. Top with a splash of a coffee-based liqueurs such as Tia Maria or Kahlua, an amari such as Averna or a favorite spirit.

About that crystal clear clarified milk punch though? Camper English explains in this article