Just in time for holiday cookie season, restaurateur St. John Frizell shares his inspiration for the spiked milk beverage and the secret to its success. 

By Carson Demmond
Updated May 23, 2017
© Frederica Kat

“I have a very strong memory of a Mardi Gras morning at someone’s house on St. Charles Avenue—finding a jug of milk punch in the refrigerator and loving it,” says St. John Frizell, co-owner of the Brooklyn restaurant Fort Defiance. “It came to symbolize that sort of home hospitality,” he says. So when he opened up Fort Defiance in 2009, he decided to incorporate the drink into his cocktail menu. "I wanted it to be really simple," he said. To lighten it up from that original version, Frizell cut back on the vanilla, mixed the milk with Old Forester Classic (an 86 proof rather than full-proof bourbon) and opted to shake the drink to the point of frothiness.

“The real key is the quality of the milk,” he adds. “We use Battenkill Valley milk, which costs more than the regular stuff you would get at the supermarket, but it’s so creamy and delicious, and we go through enough of it that it’s always fresh.”

Frizell also stresses the difference between his breed of milk punch and the historic version that has made its reappearance on the cocktail scene. “Among the mixology set now, a milk punch is something completely different from what we serve,” he says. “They make these clarified, clear milk punches, which are great—but ours is very rooted in New Orleans, and the full dairy effect is the whole point.”

Related: Punch Recipes

For any New Yorker who wants to go straight to the source, Frizell assures us that the drink is never coming off the menu. “If it did,” he says, “there would be riots.”

Fort Defiance's Bourbon Milk Punch

1 1/2 ounces bourbon*
1 ounce simple syrup
3 ounces best-quality whole milk
2 dashes vanilla extract

Combine bourbon, simple syrup, milk and vanilla in shaker over ice, and shake. Strain over fresh ice in a large rocks glass. Grate fresh nutmeg over and serve.

*Bartender hack: “We infuse the bourbon with vanilla, in addition to the extract,” says Frizell. “It’s very unscientific—just tuck a few vanilla beans into the bottle."