Story by Dave Eckert | Photos courtesy of Bronson Kistler
Clarified milk punch! It’s an adult beverage category that’s been around for centuries, but one I admittedly had no exposure to until recently after meeting a mixologist turned clarified milk punch advocate and producer, Bronson Kistler. More on Kistler and his creations in a minute. First some background on clarified milk punch, including what exactly it is and when and where it was created.
For that, I turned to Kistler himself. After all, he’s been researching and creating clarified milk punch for years. “The origins of clarified milk punch are somewhat foggy, but the earliest known mention of the drink appeared in a script by playwright Aphra Behn during the late 1600s. The earliest found recorded recipe was in 1711 by a woman named Mary Rockett. Rockett mixed brandy with the juice and zest of lemons, nutmeg, water, and milk! Yes, milk!” Kistler shared. “The acidity from the fresh lemons in the mixture would break the milk, which would then be slowly strained out of the mixture through a cloth. Within the milk are casein proteins, which act like trillions of molecular sponges collecting the cloudy particles in the punch and sweeping them out as the milk solids are strained away. This resulted in a naturally shelf stable and crystalline punch with a soft and velvety texture which bewilders and delights the senses.”
Kistler says the popularity of clarified milk punch grew throughout the 17 and 1800s, and was enjoyed by, among others, Benjamin Franklin and Charles Dickens. Through the years, the surging popularity began to wane until a fairly recent renaissance when mixologists, including Kistler, discovered the history and delights of the drink and began crafting their own versions, which now number in the thousands worldwide!
Kistler’s personal clarified milk punch journey began in 2016 when he discovered the the technique of clarified milk punch in the writings of cocktail historian, David Wondrich. “I quickly became obsessed with the process and learned as much as I could about it, experimenting with my own recipe to put on the menu at Westport Cafe, where I was bartender and beverage director at the time,” Kistler recalled. “After the uncountable list of cocktail recipes I had put together over the years, nothing really came close to the result I was able to achieve through the technique of milk clarification. Truly, one must simply taste a milk punch to appreciate the magic of it.”
Kistler says the process preserves the flavors and acidity of fresh juice and citrus, removes bitter compounds, softens the edges of any spirit, and creates a deep velvety texture that he claims is an utter joy to drink. “After seeing thousands of drinkers from across the spectrum try milk punch for the first time, I can say the reaction of stunned enjoyment is nearly universal, and it is a delight to share that with people,” Kistler stated.
Kistler says anyone can make a clarified milk punch; the tools and basic ingredients are readily available. However, there is this caveat. “The trouble is typically found in the process itself, which can be an extremely lengthy and frustrating endeavor. It typically takes about two days to properly build and clarify a punch, and that’s if everything goes according to plan. The process is extremely fickle. Even when all variables are dialed in, a milk punch can go awry at any moment. Early on in my milk punch journey, even after clarifying many batches, I still had some go sideways on me that resulted in a much less than desired outcome,” Kistler recalled.
So, what does Kistler recommend? Buying his Bronson’s punches, popping open the bottle, and pouring the punch over ice! Easy peasy. “I personally make my punches in 500-gallon batches with fresh ingredients, spices, spirits, and, of course, whole milk! My Original Punch is the exact punch I started making at Westport Cafe seven years ago, combining aged bourbon with fresh apples, ginger, lemons and warm spices like cinnamon, clove, and allspice. My Tropical Punch is a blend of Caribbean rums mixed with fresh pineapples, limes, and a tropical blend of herbs and spices. While they both drink wonderfully all year round, Original Punch pairs beautifully with autumn and winter while Tropical Punch perhaps invokes warm sandy beaches,” Kistler said.
You’ll find Bronson’s punches in retails stores, bars, and restaurants, throughout the metro, and throughout Missouri and Kansas. A full list and map of retailers can be located on Kistler’s website, www.drinkbronsons.com. What’s more, Kistler says for those living outside Missouri and Kansas, Bronson’s ships direct to doorsteps in most states right from the website. I’m not sure that’s something even Benjamin Franklin could have imagined.