In 2010, David Wondrich, the world’s pre-eminent cocktail historian, published Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. Suddenly punches, those complex, large-format and labour-intensive group-serve cocktails that were popular in the upscale taverns of the 1700s, were popular again thanks to Wondrich’s book.

In the pages of Punch was a recipe for something called a clarified milk punch. The technique involves mixing milk with various spirits and other flavourings, then curdling the mixture with citrus juice and straining off the milk solids. The resulting liquid is clean and clear, but with a silky texture and an integration of flavour that’s difficult to achieve with standard cocktail techniques.

In the couple of years after Punch came out, there was a flurry of interest in milk punch, and the antique drink found its way onto the menus of Australia’s top cocktail bars. But after a while, it faded back into the pages of cocktail history. Perhaps Australia’s drinking public wasn’t quite ready. But more recently, the milk punch has made a serious and sustained comeback, now holding pride of place on the cocktail lists of many of Australia’s best bars, including Caretaker’s Cottage, Maggie’s Snacks and Liquor, Maybe Sammy and Society.

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“I think bartenders love making milk punches because it’s a vintage technique that’s stood the test of time,” Alejandro Archibald, bartender and co-owner at Maggie’s, tells Broadsheet. “You can take all types of drinks that would normally be quite thick and creamy [think Toblerones or Pina Coladas], apply the milk-punch technique, and out comes a clear, sophisticated-looking cocktail, but with the weight and texture you’d expect from a milk-based drink.”

Maggie’s menu currently features a carrot cake milk punch made with whisky, pecan milk, carrot, spiced syrup and whisky. Take that, Zumbo.

Sarah Proietti, venue manager at Sydney’s award-winning Maybe Sammy, concurs. “Milk punches are clear, smooth and shelf-stable,” she says. “The fact that they can be pre-batched in quantity also aligns with serving drinks quickly and efficiently.”

Proietti tells Broadsheet that using the milk punch technique is “a process that creates a unique texture while enhancing the flavours harmoniously. Milk punches also have aesthetic appeal in being visually striking. Milk punch can be made with a wide variety of base spirits and flavourings, so it’s a really versatile technique that can be tailored to different tastes and ingredients. This flexibility allows bartenders to experiment and innovate, keeping the drink interesting and relevant over time.”

Maybe Sammy’s current menu features the Do Not Disturb, a milk punch with strawberry, cream and champagne as its main flavours, along with tequila and habanero. “It’s a cheeky twist on a spicy Tommy’s Margarita, fruity, sweet and citrusy,” Piroetti says. “Inspired by the iconic scene in Pretty Woman, where Richard Gere orders champagne and strawberries for room service at the hotel’s reception, this cocktail plays with the idea of a wild and spicy night.”

The fun of milk punch is that you can use any kind of flavoured milk, or infuse it yourself with ingredients like breads, biscuits and cereals, then turn that gloopy mess into a delightfully clear liquid while retaining the essential flavours. Think Froot Loops milk infused with your favourite rum, or hot-cross bun milk with brandy. It’s labour- and time-intensive, but with a bit of planning, milk punch can be made in bulk and kept fresh in the fridge for days.

In fact, the original recipe for milk punch from the year 1711, which Wondrich attributes to English housewife Mary Rockett, calls for eight lemons, a gallon of brandy, two pounds of loaf sugar, nutmeg and two quarts of milk. It’s enough to keep the party rolling for days, and given the preservative powers of citrus, sugar and alcohol, it won’t spoil if you don’t quite make it through the whole batch – another reason bartenders love milk punch.

The revival of the milk punch in Melbourne can perhaps be traced to the work of bartender Darren Leaney during his time at Carlton’s Capitano restaurant. His tiramisu milk punch made with Savoiardi biscuit-infused milk is among the best dessert cocktails ever created. (Try it if you don’t believe us.) Leaney and his outstanding milk punches have been hugely influential around Australia, and he can even be found espousing the wonders of the milk punch on Difford’s Guide, the world’s largest online repository of cocktail knowledge. Leaney now plies his trade at Melbourne’s bar-of-the-moment Caretaker’s Cottage, which has a milk punch on the list at all times.

Leaney explains his love of milk punch by saying it can, with a little planning, allow for depth of flavour and some serious wow factor without sacrificing speed of service. “Not many drinks have the chops to tick all of those boxes so easily, especially ones that allow for that level of creative flexibility. Milk punches also have this knack for sparking conversation due to looking nothing like they sound on paper,” he says.

Caretaker’s is currently serving the Silk Stocking cocktail, starring raspberry-infused tequila, dark crème de cacao, pomegranate and grapefruit juices and coconut water, all clarified with the milk-punch technique. With drinks like this on offer, here’s hoping that in a world where the morning milk wagon has faded into history, the milk punch is here to stay.

Where to drink milk punch around Australia:

Death and Taxes: Louie Lastik, a pecan-pie flavoured milk punch
Antico: Pistachio and Cherry Milk Punch

Latteria: Breakfast in Milano, inspired by a classic Milanese breakfast of coffee and pastry
Mr Goodbar: Briar Patch, with raspberry-infused gin and white chocolate

Maybe Sammy: Do Not Disturb, a milk-punch riff on a spicy strawberry Margarita
The Waratah: Feijoa and Yoghurt, a milk punch of gin, feijoa, cucumber kojizuke, smoked yoghurt and pepperberry showcasing the produce of the Hunter Valley
Rosie Campbell’s: Rummin’ Banana Milk Punch

Foxtrot Unicorn: Wallbanger, a pineapple freeze-distilled milk punch with scotch and coconut
Gibney: Clear Intentions, featuring vodka, lychee and Sichuan pepper

Maggie’s Snacks and Liquor: Carrot Cake Milk Punch
Capitano: Tiramisu Milk Punch
Caretaker’s Cottage: Silk Stocking