milk-punchEngland, 1500s
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.

THE KIT

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

HOW TO

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:

oz brandy (or cognac) or bourbon
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.

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ramosginfizzNew Orleans, Louisiana (1888)

The Ramos Gin Fizz doesn’t mean to be difficult, really. It’s just that creating a glassful of pillowy heaven does take a bit of work and attention. Even the name – which shouldn’t be difficult – is: the correct Spanish pronunciation is “RAH-mose” but most people I know say this as “RAY-mose.” To make things more confusing, in New Orleans, some say it “RAY-muss.” Whatever. As they say, “Call me anything you want, just don’t call me late for breakfast.”

This drink evolved from the basic Sour 2:1:1 formula (spirit:citrus:sweet) into a Fizz (by adding seltzer, like a Tom Collins but without ice) and from there into a group of fancy Fizzes (egg white makes a Silver Fizz, egg yolk makes a Golden Fizz, whole egg makes a Royal Fizz). Adding cream and orange flower water was the masterstroke by barman Henrico “Henry” Charles Ramos at the now-extinct Imperial Cabinet Saloon in New Orleans back in 1888. The drink became so popular, Ramos employed a line of up to 35 “Shaker Boys” to pass the shaking tins down an assembly line, vigorously shaking each drink in succession for up to 12 minutes total.

125 years of practice and refinement have perfected this little number. Some will tell you removing the spring from a Hawthorne strainer and adding it to the shaker will help whip the drink, but in practice, it actually over-aearates the drink. Some will say you have to shake the drink for ten minutes – that’s bullshit, too. Don’t add the seltzer to the mix, either – the shaker will have a hard enough time staying sealed with the egg white and cream expanding as you go. You may occasionally see a couple drops of vanilla in this drink – which tends to overwhelm the delicate flavors, if you ask me. But good ice does make a key difference here, even though you’ll only be using one cube from a Tovolo 1″ ice tray (unless you’re one of those mad geniuses with a Kold-Draft machine at home). The density of the ice will ensure the drink dilutes, chills, and whips properly. And the right glassware is crucial (an 8-ounce fizz glass like the Libbey 2318 Lexington), to help hold that stasis of booze, air, and protein afloat. Don’t try to make two of these in one shaker – it just won’t work.

This technique was taught to me by 320 Main bartender Shaun Cole, who learned it from bartender, brand ambassador, and consultant Marcos Tello. Word is, Marcos traveled the country gathering techniques from various bartenders and even food scientists, then consolidated the best-of into this recipe. Jason Schiffer, owner of 320 Main, told me this drink “lets bartenders show off their skills like no other drink.” It takes focus and practice to get this one right, but the effort is rewarded. The ideal texture is a tight, dense, almost-meringue-like foam floating atop a creamy, aerated liquid base – not a frothy mass of loose, sloppy bubbles.

If you’re concerned about consuming raw egg whites, try not to be. It’s fine, you won’t die. Just make sure your eggs are cold and fresh, and that you don’t get any chickenshit in your drink.

The Ramos Gin Fizz is perfect for a warm spring or summer brunch, so long as you’re up to the task. Reserve this for a morning that’s not a morning-after!

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Shaker, Eyedropper, Muddler, Tovolo 1″ Ice Cube Tray, Straw, Spoon
Glassware: 8-ounce fizz glass
Ice: Ice cube
Spirit: Old Tom gin (recommended: Hayman’s) or London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater) or Plymouth gin
Mixer: Simple syrup, Seltzer or Tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino)
Accents & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lime juice, Orange flower water (look for a French brand, but Middle Eastern will do), Heavy cream (aka “whipping cream” – but not whipped cream), Egg white

HOW TO

Chill a fizz glass in the freezer at least ten minutes. In a cocktail shaker, combine:

1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2
oz lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz heavy cream
3
drops orange flower water

In a second container (to avoid contamination from a piece of eggshell), separate:

1 egg white

Discard the yolk and the chalazae (the thick, stringy part connected to the yolk) and combine the egg white with the previous ingredients. Seal the shaker very tightly and dry shake for ten to twelve seconds to emulsify the ingredients. Hold the shaker lid firmly while shaking – the egg whites will foam and expand in volume and will create pressure in the shaker.

Add:

1 ice cube (1″ square)

Whip the shaker vigorously until you hear the ice cube has completely dissolved. Pour, unstrained, into the chilled fizz glass. Hold the glass in one hand, and, using a muddler, tap on the bottom of the glass for a minute or two. Look for the level of the drink to settle down about 1/8″ or so, and for any large bubbles in the foam to dissipate. You’re looking for a thick, consistent foam texture in the drink. Next, to the surface of the drink, add:

2 drops orange flower water

In the used shaker, add:

2 oz seltzer

Slowly drizzle the seltzer straight down the center of the drink from a height of about an inch or two. If you’ve done everything right, you’ll see the foamy head of the drink rising slowly above the rim of the glass. Keep pouring seltzer down the same spot and keep an eye on the foamy head. If it starts to sag around the edges, stop adding seltzer.

Serve with a straw (and a spoon to scoop out those last bits of meringuey goodness), then congratulate yourself on creating a thing of beauty. Kick back the rest of the day, you’ve earned it.

p.s. You may want to keep a spoon handy for scooping out the last little bit of foamy, citrusy goodness.

irishcoffeeFoynes, Ireland (1942)

There’s few things more satisfying and comforting than a well-made Irish Coffee. The cool cream blends with the hot coffee as you take that first sip, backed up by the mellow nip of Irish whiskey and sweet rich sugar. Perfect for a rainy afternoon pick-me-up or for a turbo-charged dessert.

To make this really special, you’ll want to pay attention to the details, starting with the whiskey. Irish whiskey is mellow, the softer predecessor to wild country Scotch whisky. I prefer Redbreast in this – it’s an old-style whiskey made in pot stills that give spirits more body and funk than column stills (those make for cleaner, crisper spirits). That extra bit of character stands up well when mixed with bold coffee.

For the coffee, go for the best you can produce at home. Use a medium roast (darker if you prefer) and grind your beans fresh. Use a French Press or a pour-over kit to make the coffee (drip coffee makers generally don’t get the water hot enough to extract the best flavor). Make it on the strong side since you’ll be diluting it with whiskey. For the sugar, go with demerara or turbinado sugar – that extra bit of molasses softens and unifies the coffee and whiskey where white sugar would be cutting and sharp. If you don’t have the right sugar on hand, mix half white sugar and half brown sugar – that’ll get you close enough. And for the whipped cream: sorry to say, but you gotta whip it fresh. Premade and presweetened whipped cream isn’t the right texture, won’t float on top, and has sweetness that will nuke your beautiful drink.

This is an example where specific glassware makes a difference: Many places use a larger handled 8.5-ounce glass that encourages a bit too much coffee in the mix. To do this drink proper, buy a set of the 6-ounce Libbey “Georgian” glasses they used in the original (made during World War II at a coastal seaplane port) and at The Buena Vista in San Francisco (where they make up to 2,000 Irish Coffees a day).

THE KIT

Hardware: Jigger, Plastic Measuring Cup, Teaspoon measure, Kettle, French Press (or pour-over kit), Standing mixer (or whisk), Barspoon
Glassware: 6-ounce Irish Coffee glass
Spirit: Irish whiskey (recommended: Redbreast, Jameson, Tullamore DEW)
Mixer: Coffee
Accents & Garnishes: Demerara sugar, Freshly-whipped heavy cream

HOW TO

Boil enough water to prepare your coffee, plus a bit extra. When boiled, fill your Irish Coffee glass with boiling water to preheat, then prepare your coffee. While the coffee is brewing, in a standing mixer (or by hand using a whisk), whip 1/4 cup of heavy cream to thicken. Stop before you get to soft peaks – the cream should be thick but still pourable. When the coffee is ready, pour out the boiling water that was added to the Irish Coffee glass.

In the glass, combine:
2 teaspoons demerara sugar
1 1/2 oz Irish whiskey
scant 1/2 cup coffee

Stir well to mix and dissolve sugar, then slowly ladle the cold whipped cream over the top to float – just enough to fill the glass, no more. Distribute and level the whipped cream with the back of a barspoon.

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