"I don't have a really diverse set of interests," Eamon Rockey says.
The Mississippi native, hobbyist brewer of root beer and general manager of Betony, a very nice restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, strikes us as a pretty well-rounded guy.
"Really, I think about a few things and just obsess over them."
One such subject of enduring attention: milk punch.
Dairy is enjoying something of a renaissance among drinks-minded folks. Details magazine recently pronounced milk "the mixer of the moment."
And, while most of us don't equate milk moustaches with hangovers, milk punches have been around since the beginning of the cocktail. Jerry Thomas included a couple clarified concoctions in his seminal Bartender's Guide of 1862. Benjamin Franklin liked the stuff well enough to record his own recipe. Franklin's Brandy Milk Punch utilized the rinds of 44 lemons and directed the bartender to "run it thro' a Jelly-bag till it is clear."
There are two species of milk punch. We have the creamy, frothy New Orleans style, a form of adult milkshake dusted with of nutmeg (see the recipe). To get in this spirit of this much-loved hangover helper, watch our video of Imre Szalai, a waiter at Galatoire's in NOLA for over 43 years, prepare their classic rendition.
Then there is the crystalline clear version that is something else altogether and looks nothing like milk at all. Rockey is strongly partial to the strained variety, which is the original and which usually involves some kind of tea as a base to which something acidic, often citrus juice, is added, followed by hot milk. The acid breaks the milk, separating it into solid curds and watery whey.
"You start with this weird and gross mass of coagulated protein and gunky citrus pulp," Rockey says. "Then, as you drain it, drop by drop, you get this sweet, ephemeral, clear refreshing liquid that I absolutely love. That process grabs the weighty compounds, the richness and the fat, and what you're left with is aroma and brightness, the smell of corn silk and a slippery texture that slides down your throat."
At Betony, Rockey tinkers with a range of acids, bases and spirits. In rotation now is one built around a mostly Asian theme: tea, kaffir lime leaves, palm sugar and cachaça, which isn't Asian at all but plays well with the other ingredients.
He shared his recipe with us for one involving pineapple juice (see the recipe). Whatever goes in, what comes out is bright, refreshing, tart, elegant. In other words, alchemy pure and simple. But don't be afraid to try it at home, Rockey says. "When you get it right, it's a drink that ages well and always makes you want another one."