I have been wanting to make a milk-clarified cocktail for ages, and I finally sat down and did some research on the subject. If you’re not familiar, milk clarification is a technique used to render cocktails (typically punches) beautifully clear that was super popular back in the 1700s and 1800s. Back in the day, the end goal was less about pretty clear cocktails and more about softening the flavor of the booze and making a batched cocktail that would keep for a long time.
Clarification starts with separation
The clarification process works because acids (such as citrus juices) in the cocktail lower the pH of the milk and cause the proteins to curdle and coagulate. Once the liquid is strained through those little curds, the resulting beverage is silky smooth and crystal clear! It’s like magic.It’s not magic though, just science! If you’re interested in learning more, there’s a great article over on Cook’s Illustrated.
How to clarify a cocktail with milk
So here’s a basic rundown of the process for creating a milk-clarified cocktail. Step one: create a delicious cocktail that includes acidic ingredients such as lemon or lime juice, or use a classic recipe such as the OG, Mary Rockett’s Milk Punch. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was a milk punch drinker? You can find his famous recipe here.
You can batch the cocktail so there’s plenty of leftovers, or you can make just one serving, it all depends on how motivated you’re feeling. I’ve actually been experimenting with individual serves because I want to try pretty much everything under the sun in clarified form at the moment. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer (let me know if you find one) about what the milk to cocktail ratio should be, although it seems that 1:5 is about right. For individual serves, just go with 1 oz milk and that should be enough. What is certain is that different milks (cow, goat, camel, etc.) will produce different results/flavors. I have read that whole milk is the best place to start, so that’s what I’ve used in my recipes so far. Let me just put out there that the second I find some camel milk, I will be creating clarified camel milk punch immediately.
Add the booze to the milk, not the milk to the booze
Another factor that seems to make a difference is that the cocktail be added to the milk and not other way around. It effects the forming of the curds and supposedly will produce better, larger curds this way. The reason we want better curds is because the curds are the key to clarity! When straining the curdled mixture, the cheesecloth or coffee filter will prevent solids from dripping into the liquid, but it is the curds that actually do the heavy lifting when it comes to filtering out all that cloudiness. Not enough curds = not entirely clear liquid. My first experiments produced incredibly clear results from super dark and murky liquid, but my second two attempts weren’t as great, and the only real difference was the amount of time I let the mixture set before straining. The first ones sat for over two hours, the second for only about one hour. I’ve read that some folks say to even let the mixture sit overnight before straining, but the one batch I did let sit overnight looked just as clear to me as the one that sat for two hours. Another factor is to gently stir the mixture after the cocktail has been added to the milk. This will evenly distribute things and ensure complete curdling. Now that you’ve combined your cocktail with your milk, gently stirred, and let sit for at least two hours, it’s time to strain it!
Watch and wait. And wait some more.
Apparently using cheesecloth will produce more rapid results, but I opted for coffee filters since I always have a box sitting around for straining various infusions. I’ll be honest, it seemed like it took FOREVER. I used a mason jar, a coffee filter, and the ring of the mason jar lid to secure the filter in place. I poured as much of the mixture as I could into the filter and then walked away to let it slowly drip. I’d come back and check every now and then and pour more into the filter until the jar with the mixture was empty and let the filter and the curds work their magic. Once it’s all passed through, strain the liquid one more time. To do this, I actually took a scoop of the remaining curds from the first filter and placed it into the second filter. This way, the liquid passed through curds a second time and not just the thin paper coffee filter. I want to say it took about an hour and half total for both strainings for this very small batch (two serving) recipe.
Don’t forget about dilution.
I will probably continue to double strain, but so far I haven’t noticed a huge difference between how clear the drink looks after the first and the second straining. Another factor to keep in mind when creating your own recipe – dilution. Depending on how you will serve your cocktail (over ice? Up? Topped with soda water?), you’ll probably want to add a bit of water to account for the lost dilution from not being shaken or stirred. I decided to wait until my cocktail was clarified and then taste test until it was right. I ended up adding 1 oz to the final drink, so ½ oz of water per serving. The drink was then served on ice, allowing for a little more dilution.
Gin, hibiscus, caramelized banana, grapefruit, lemon
Sounds like a pretty crazy assortment of ingredients, huh? The inspiration here started with the gin I wanted to use, Koval Dry Gin. Koval Dry Gin is small batch and organic, two of my favorite things. I really like this gin, as it’s very crisp and pine-y, but also slightly unusual. When I was looking up tasting notes to try to describe what it was I was picking up on, I found this Difford’s Guide article which remarks, “Occasionally, juniper presents itself as overripe banana in a gin, with the more usual resinous pine notes present but subdued. This is one such gin. It also has distinctive lavender notes.” YES, bananas, that’s it!! Sounds insane, but there is a very subtle banana flavor to this gin, as well as very fresh pine and slightly floral lavender notes. Immediately my mind started running through all of the possibilities for a unique, tropical, clarified gin cocktail! I ended up making a caramelized banana syrup (if you could call it that). It was super dark and viscous – basically a caramelized banana puree. I used a really special sugar, Circa estate-grown blonde sugar from Panana and it tasted DIVINE on its own (I’ll talk more about this incredible sugar in some upcoming recipes.) I was so curious to see how this super dark brown, lumpy syrup, combined with pink grapefruit juice, meyer lemon juice, hibiscus syrup and gin would look once clarified. The original cocktail was a deep brown red, but after adding it to the milk, the curds that floated up were a bright red, giving me some idea of what was to come.
I can’t express how wild it is to take a sip of something pink-ish and crystal clear, and taste so many flavors, including those caramelized bananas! You can be sure I will be continuing my experiments with milk clarification in all kinds of unexpected cocktails. Now that I have a sense of what I’m doing, I’ll include some in-process photos in the next post to better illustrate things – up next: a clarified Screwdriver.
Milk-Clarified Hibiscus, Caramelized Banana, & Grapefruit Gin Cocktail
Yield: 2 servings
Prep time: <5 minutes
Total time: about 3.5 hours
For the cocktail:
4 oz Koval Dry Gin
3 oz meyer lemon juice
1 oz caramelized banana syrup
1 oz hibiscus syrup
1 oz pink grapefruit juice
+1 or more oz water
2 oz whole milk
Caramelized Banana Syrup: Heat one chopped ripe banana in a small saucepan with ½ cup of Circa Blonde sugar and a small pad of butter. Stir constantly for about five minutes over medium heat, or until the sugar begins to caramelize. Add ½ cup of water and stir well. Cook for another five minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool at least one hour. Pour into a jar for storage in the fridge.
Hibiscus Syrup: Heat 3 tbsp of dried hibiscus petals (or 3 hibiscus tea bags) with ½ cup of white sugar and ½ cup of water for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain into a jar for storage in the fridge.
Combine all cocktail ingredients and stir to incorporate.
Use a fine mesh strainer to strain out any chunks of banana and pour cocktail mixture into a mason jar.
In a separate jar, add whole milk. Pour cocktail mixture into milk and give it a gentle stir.
Cover and let sit for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Using cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter, carefully strain the liquid into a clean jar. You can place the filter into a mason jar and use the ring from the lid to secure the filter in place before starting to pour the liquid. Allow the mix to strain without touching or pressing on the curds. Once the liquid has passed completely through the filter, repeat the process a second time.
Add water to the finished cocktail to taste, at least 1 oz. Store any leftover cocktail in a sealed jar or bottle in the fridge. Serve over ice and garnish with a dainty pink edible flower. Glassware is Libbey Signature Kentfield Chisel Rocks Glass.
Have you made a milk punch or other milk-clarified cocktail? Tell me what your process was! As always, tag me in cocktail pics on Instagram @moodymixologist!