Photos by Elizabeth Daniels and Wonho Frank Lee
Michael Lay has birthed a modern classic. His English Milk Punch, which certainly doesn't sound like it would be the drink of summer, has had booze hounds driving from across town to get a taste of the classic cocktail re-mastered by Faith & Flower's "Chief of Booze." Lay, who might have the best business card title in history, has been honing his craft across California for years, the result of which has earned him a fair share of well-deserved accolades.
Fresh off a Best Restaurant nod in Esquire Magazine for not only Faith & Flower as a part of the Best New Restaurants 2014 list, but also for the English Milk Punch as the Cocktail of the Year, the demand for the punch is higher than ever. Faith & Flower goes through at least 80 quarts of the cocktail per week, double what it was at opening.
Lay took Eater into Faith & Flower's kitchen to show us how to make this now famous cocktail. The labor-intensive process takes three days and utilizes a milk wash technique that results in a drink that is surprisingly rich and clear.
Lay begins by taking handfuls of lemon zest and mixing it with sugar to make oleo saccharum, which literally means oil sugar, with the oil from the lemon zest. This mixture serves as an old school punch base, and was a common technique used in 19th-century bartending.
After preparing the oleo saccharum, Lay adds in two sliced pineapples, cinnamon, coriander, and cloves. As he muddles everything together, he explains the development of the recipe. While the original comes from Jerry Thomas' How to Mix Drinks, first published in 1862, Lay's version took four years of tinkering to perfect.
Next up, lemon juice, green tea, and a mixture of rum, cognac, whiskey, and absinthe. Lay explains that while there are some recipes floating around online for his proprietary punch, he keeps the true proportions of the liquors closely guarded. He pours in boiling water to help the ingredients meld together, and allows the fragrant slurry to sit overnight.
The following day, Lay pours boiling whole milk into the strained rum base. What once looked like it could be a tasty cocktail worthy of a colorful mini umbrella is now a curdled mass of goop (and not the fancy Gwyneth Paltrow kind).
The biggest chunks of curd are removed with a spider, then the mixture is passed through a chinois. The opaque result is left to sit overnight, allowing the fine milk solids to settle to the bottom. Once separated, Lay can simply pour the clear milk punch from the container.
After the three-day process, the punch is ready to be served. The chilled drink is served tableside-poured over a single large cube of ice, twist of lemon zest, and sprinkle of fresh nutmeg. It tastes like a refined version of spring break in the tropics, fruity and refreshing, with more complexity and less hangover-inducing syrupiness. A subtle viscosity from the milk protein and whey, the only elements left from the milk, lends a pleasant mouthfeel that rounds out the drink.
The punch goes down dangerously quickly; it is clear to see how the drink made with such finesse has become a favorite of so many. And Michael Lay's favorite drink? A shot of whiskey and a beer. A fitting pairing for the true Chief of Booze.