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MILK PUNCH, LIQUEURS

Milk punch has become another favorite for bartenders looking to offer their own interpretation of a classic. The basic formula is simple: a punch (spirit, citrus, sugar, and spice) that's combed through with hot milk. After the mixture curdles, it's fine-strained, leaving a clear but creamy drink. The process necessitates a homemade touch, and infusing the base spirit allows for endless experimentation. Bars from Craigie on Main to Catalyst have risen to the challenge, incorporating any number of ingredients on hand in the kitchen (pineapple and bacon, say, or pink peppercorn and green peppers). At Bergamot, bar manager Paul Manzelli's Ras el Hanout milk punch, a Middle Eastern riff on the recipe, was so popular with two of his regulars that the pair had him make miniature batches to give away as favors at their wedding.

Over the holidays, Russell House Tavern was delving into a different dairy-based drink, pouring little coupe glasses of eggnog — a frothy blend of baking spices that slowly spread through you like a blanket of lava. Gabrielli decided to make his in the back kitchen.

"I was making quart upon quart upon quart every other day," he says. "I wouldn't have done it any other way, but it's all about what you can budget into your time."

But with spring en route, Gabrielli has something different up his sleeve: Mexican Punsch. A riff on Swedish Punsch, a toothsome liqueur made with rum, Gabrielli's uses tequila and white wine. It's lovely, tricky stuff: sweet and full-bodied and dangerously smooth, with pops of cardamom and citrus. On its own, it has a syrupy consistency; topped with bubbles and a few hits of his homemade cardamom tincture, it morphs into a mimosa's wild-eyed cousin. He plans on calling it the $1000 Question, and brunchers can expect to find it on the menu in a few weeks' time.

"I don't think my drinks would necessarily blow away a cocktail geek," he says. "I think every now and again I can get there, but that's not what I'm striving for exactly. I want to make good cocktails for people who maybe haven't had good cocktails before. Having my own ingredients helps me enhance that experience for them."

Back at UpStairs on the Square, Lino forgoes St. Germain in favor of his own richer elderflower liqueur, concocted using Nikolaihof elderflower cordial, a biodynamic syrup made in Austria. He mixes the cordial with a high-proof grain spirit (he uses Spiritus) and a little water, giving a mainstream favorite a small-batch feel. His ginger beer is another standout on the menu, with pure ginger flavor like a blow to the head. Fresh strawberry liqueur in the summer, limoncello, maraschino cherries, and sherry whipped cream top off the list of ingredients that work to further the whimsical air of the Harvard Square landmark.

"The idea of locally made is a very attractive one, but the flavor is what really matters. You simply can't compare the pink grocery-store grenadine with one made with unsweetened pomegranate juice," he says. "I remember having a Jack Rose with real pomegranate grenadine and getting the difference on the first sip. The ginger beer is one of those first-sip moments to many people who try it for the first time."

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