What Happens When You Use Milk-Washed Spirits In Cocktails?

Dairy and alcohol may seem like an unusual combination, but cartons of milk are frequently used at trendy cocktail bars. There are a few slings with the dairy directly shaken into the mix, such as bourbon milk punch. However, it's in clarifying applications that the combo is really taking off.

Passing a liquor with an acid — oftentimes alongside other flavors — through milk creates a wondrous effect. The dairy curdles and separates into curds and whey, which are filtered. And in the latter lies the magic: An aromatic, creamy, and smoothened rendition of the spirit. When consumed on its own, it's called a milk punch, a drink concocted since the 18th century.

However, nowadays, bartenders are pushing the envelope further, using the clarified booze as a component in further drinks. Called a milk-washed spirit, the technique creates liquors with a remarkable frothiness and often an inventively infused flavor. The perfect canvas for reinterpretations, it only takes a shake to create an opaque yet rich cocktail sans any thickeners. And while some flavor is lost, especially from barrel-aged spirits, further ingredient additions compensate. The resulting cocktails turn heads, incorporating familiar components into reinvented forms.

Milk-washed spirits create rich and delicate cocktails

The magic of milk-washing all lies in milk's various proteins. The filtered whey, although clear, still contains some of these, which are infused throughout the resultant spirit mixture. Once thrown in a shaker, they activate into a decadent, silky-feeling drink, almost reminiscent of an egg white sling. Simultaneously, a different type of milk protein latches onto the spirit's bold-flavored compounds, like the tannins found in barrel-aged spirits and tea. These are filtered out with the curds, softening the flavor of the spirit while creating the potential for unique infusions.

Bartenders inventively rearrange such components to create cocktails that take on a new character. Tea, typically an unpalatably dominant ingredient to mix with, can pass through a milk wash infused in a clear spirit like rum, gin, or vodka. Alternatively, distinct components like liqueurs, syrups, and spices can be easily melded together. Once clarified, the mixture is shaken with an acid and sugar to create a layered cocktail with a twist.

The milk employed in the wash can also be an additional vessel for flavor. Whether it's soured or soaked with other ingredients, this method introduces intricate layers of flavor. It's not all about the booze, either. This boundary-pushing technique can even be applied to non-alcoholic options too.