New Orleans, 1800s
Milk Punch may be the ultimate “oh, why the hell not?” drink.
Just about as soon as folks in England figured out how to distill beverage alcohol, they figured out booze went great with milk and a little sugar, mixing up all kinds of Egg Nogs and punches. They drank their Milk Punch hot, out of a big sweaty communal bowl, and cut with lemon juice. That’s all well and fine for the time, I suppose. 16th century, what are you gonna do? But people in New Orleans already knew all about hot and sweaty – so they got this drink back on the right track by cooling it over crushed ice, softening it with vanilla, and making it purty and fragrant with a dusting of nutmeg.
Our friends down in New Orleans have perfected the art of day-drinking (and night-drinking, too, now that I think of it). That’s not to give any credit to the boorish bros and misguided tourists on Bourbon Street – they’re not included among our friends. You and I, we prefer the finer things in life. And there are few things finer than this soothing combination of spirit, milk, sugar, and vanilla. In New Orleans, it’s not uncommon to enjoy a Brandy Milk Punch with breakfast, a Pimm’s Cup while waiting out the muggy afternoon storm, a Sazerac before dinner… all best enjoyed with a savory, gut-busting meal and the company of a good friend.
Try this with a good brandy or cognac (or 50/50 with an aged Jamaican rum). Bourbon is also common, but makes for a slightly sweeter drink. This is also a chance to use that delicious batch of homemade vanilla syrup – but in a pinch, you can use regular simple syrup and three drops of real vanilla extract.
Look, this drink won’t do your waistline any favors. But somedays… just getting out of bed is enough of an accomplishment. Cut yourself some slack.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Muddler or mallet, Lewis bag, Nutmeg Grater or Microplane
Ice: Ice cubes, crushed ice
Glassware: Old Fashioned glass
Spirit: Brandy or cognac (recommended: Germain-Robin Craft Method) or Bourbon (recommended: Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey 81)
Mixers: Whole milk, Vanilla syrup
Garnish: Freshly-grated nutmeg
Using a Lewis bag, crush enough ice to fill an Old Fashioned glass about two-thirds full to a fine, even consistency by pounding with a muddler or mallet.
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz brandy (or cognac) or bourbon
2 oz whole milk
3/4 oz vanilla syrup
Shake well to blend and chill, then double-strain into the ice-filled glass. Top with a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg.
Don the Beachcomber (1937)
File under “semi-obscure-but-completely-delicious.”
When Don the Beachcomber moved into an expanded location across the street from their original spot in Hollywood, they also expanded the drinks menu. The “Pupule” was one they added to the lineup – another dimensionalized riff on the Planter’s Punch, this time mixing orange and lime for the sour element, and merging sweet and spicy with flavors of allspice, vanilla, and cinnamon. I imagine Donn’s customers had a good number of juvenile laughs at the name (Poo Poo? Purple? Pustule?) before he changed it to “Nui Nui” around 1941 (much better, it means “Big-Big” or “Extra-Large” in Maori).
In spite of the boastful name, booze-wise this drink is no big deal. Same amount of rum as a little Daiquiri – but they still enforced a three-per-customer limit on this one. Most likely to appeal to the macho types who felt their masculinity threatened by all the orchids and whatnot. “Are you man enough to handle three of these?” and so on.
A note on orange juice – lemon and lime juice is always fresh in these recipes, but it’s easy to assume that pasteurized orange juice from concentrate, the breakfast staple, is the same thing as fresh-squeezed. Short answer: it ain’t. You gotta squeeze an orange, sorry. But before you do, prepare the garnish, a long orange peel – like a whole orange peeled all the way around and around with a Y-peeler. Feel free to use whatever size peel you like and decorate as you prefer: the original hung the peel out of the drink and down the side of the mug or glass; I like coiling it up like a crown and loading with more ice.
You’ll need three syrups or liqueurs for this: pimento dram, cinnamon syrup, and vanilla syrup – see recipes here if you’re up for the effort (and the necessary time) to make them yourself at home… but a great alternative is BG Reynolds‘ fantastic line of tiki syrups from Portland, Oregon.
If you’re going through all the fun to make this fantastic drink, why not serve it in a vintage tiki mug? Great finds can be had at thrift stores occasionally, or check online at Etsy‘s vintage shops.
Hardware: Electric blender, Jigger, Straws (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Tiki mug or Collins glass
Spirits: Amber rum (recommended: Cruzan Aged Dark – or Havana Club Añejo Especial if you can get it)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Pimento Dram, Vanilla Syrup, Cinnamon syrup
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Orange juice, Angostura bitters, Orange peel
In an electric blender, add:
2 1/2 oz amber rum
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz orange juice
3/4 oz cinnamon syrup
1 tsp vanilla syrup
1 tsp pimento dram
1 dash Angostura bitters
3/4 cup cracked ice
Flash blend five seconds to quickly mix – meaning just turn the blender on, then off again. Pour unstrained into a tiki mug or Collins glass. Garnish with a long orange peel. Optionally, serve with two straws.
Caribbean, generally (1700s)
Truth is, I’ve been remiss. Planter’s Punch certainly qualifies as a “basic drink,” one of perhaps a handful of core templates that inspire countless variations. You have the “cocktail” Old Fashioned (template: spirit, sugar, bitters, rock ice), the “aromatic” Martini (template: 2:1 spirit / aromatized wine, served up), the “sour” Daiquiri (template: 2:1:1 spirit / citrus / sweet, up), the… um… “Collins” Tom Collins (template: 2:1:1 spirit / citrus / sweet with dilution & bubbles, served tall), and the punch – simply a large-format Collins with the addition of spice. Some other oddball drinks are out there, either part of a smaller family or black sheep out on their own: drinks like Egg Nog, Irish Coffee, Ramos Gin Fizz. The world of cocktails is chaotic and resists tidy taxonomy. But some rules do apply, whether these drinks like it or not.
So, as a punch, this came to British and Dutch sailors by way of the Caribbean – and from there to the world. Punch was all the rage in Colonial America and held dominance at the local watering hole until the mid-1800s, when the pace of life quickened and people just couldn’t take the time to spend hours imbibing socially. I can’t imagine what they would think of today’s world, poor souls. Drinks became reduced down to individual portions, and the Planter’s Punch in particular was a popular novelty for tourists visiting Jamaica’s Hotel Titchfield and Myrtle Bank Hotel. Myers’s Rum even rebranded their labels as the Planter’s Punch rum in the 1930s. You may have heard different versions of this rhyming recipe for punch: “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak, and a touch of spice to make it nice.” The sour is typically lime, the sweet is almost always just simple syrup (but a bit of grenadine is not uncommon), the strong is our old buddy rum, and the weak is dilution – from shaking with ice, from serving over ice, and from seltzer. The spice is simply Angostura bitters, potent with Caribbean spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.
Now, were we to strictly follow that singsong rhyme, this drink would come out unbalanced. That 1-2-3-4-5 thing works in a punch bowl, where moderate dilution is welcome. Punch (in that format) is meant to be sipped communally over a long conversation. This is more of a solitary sipper – better suited to a lazy afternoon in the hammock. Side note: progressing from its popularity as a tropical refresher, Planter’s Punch became the inspiration for many successful tall tiki drinks beginning with Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie. When dimensionalized into a tiki drink, the strong component can change from one rum to four rums. The sweet can be a mix of multiple syrups and tropical flavors. Spice is often integrated into the syrups, like the ginger kick in falernum or the allspice in pimento dram. Try this simple, direct version – then give the tiki approach a go and see what you come up with!
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Cocktail pick, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirits: Dark Jamaican rum (recommended: Coruba)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Simple syrup, Seltzer (or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino))
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wheel
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz dark Jamaican rum
1 oz lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled about two-thirds of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:
1 1/2 oz seltzer
Stir lightly to blend and garnish with a lime wheel. Optionally, serve with a straw.