Essential Southern Cocktail: Milk Punch

A silky-smooth start to the day

Illustration: Derik Hobbs

Watch how to make milk punch


History: Spiked milk likely goes back as far as the first human tribe to domesticate livestock and distill hooch in proximity. Recorded references to a kind of milk punch date back to 1600s Scotland and early Colonial America (Ben Franklin was a big fan), long predating even the 1860s advent of the cocktail’s golden age. (That’s probably why it never got stuck with a too-clever sobriquet such as Cow Tipper or Mrs. O’Leary’s Tonic.) Regardless, Southern imbibers seemingly were required to achieve the classic’s ideal form by adding bourbon, and ever since it has been widely regarded as a Southern-leaning libation. Indeed, New Orleans’s famous Arnaud’s restaurant has featured milk punch on its menu since the 1930s and still mixes up gallons of it every day. And we do mean day. “Milk punch is associated with celebratory brunches and holidays,” says Liz Williams, curator of the Museum of the American Cocktail. “It’s perfect as a lighter, creamy drink without being as cloyingly sweet as, say, a Grasshopper.”

Like many a mixologist, Williams avoids any temptation to use reduced-fat milk rather than whole milk or even half-and-half. “The milkfat and alcohol together create such a wonderful mouthfeel,” she says. “If you’re a drinker because you’re looking for a sophisticated experience rather than getting drunk, this is a really good one.”

Mixologist Tip: This recipe scales up easily, and a batch actually can taste better after sitting in the fridge overnight.

Variations: Replace one ounce of bourbon with brandy or dark rum for a slightly richer taste.


    • 2 oz. bourbon

    • 3 to 4 oz. whole milk, or half-and-half

    • ½ oz. simple syrup, or 1 tsp. sugar

    • ¾ tsp. vanilla extract

    • Sprinkle grated nutmeg


  1. Fill a cocktail shaker three-quarters with ice. Pour in all liquids.

  2. Shake vigorously until chilled, about 30 seconds.

  3. Strain into a goblet.

  4. Dust with grated nutmeg on top of milk foam.