How to Master the Clarified Cocktail

How to Master the Clarified Cocktail

By Sarah Bradley Published August 2023

Would you believe us if we told you that curdled milk is the key to crafting smoother, better-tasting cocktails? No? Okay, hear us out. The ever-changing tides of cocktail trends have shifted toward a unique mixology trick that doesn’t seem like it should be a thing, but you’ll be glad it is. Two words: clarified cocktails.

What Is a Clarified Cocktail?

Cocktail clarification is the process of removing unwanted particles and impurities from mixed drinks to improve the flavor, texture and appearance. There are a few different ways to clarify cocktails, but milk-washing is the oldest (and most viral) trick in the book. Milk-washing dates all the way back to the 1700s, when British homemaker (and icon) Mary Rockett wrote the first-known recipe for clarified milk punch. In 2023, clarified cocktails have snuck their way back onto bar menus and in the hands of trendy cocktail enthusiasts.

Cocktail clarification kicks cloudiness, funky texture, short shelf-life and unaccentuated flavors to the curb. Removing solid particles from a cocktail slows down oxidation and spoilage, so you can sip and store for up to a year without losing quality. It also creates a crystal-clear appearance that boosts the Instagram-worthiness and allows for true flavors to shine through.

If you’re ready to do some wizard-like alchemy with your cocktails, we’re here to show you how.

How To Clarify a Cocktail Step-By-Step

Clarified cocktails are easy to craft at home and beginner-friendly—no expert mixology skills required. However, the process is no quick mix (and can even last overnight) so we tailored this tutorial for batch cocktails.

Heads up: you can only milk-wash a cocktail that contains citric acid, like lime or lemon juice. For example, a margarita, sour, punch or daiquiri.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Containers for storage (bottles, pitchers, carafes, etc.)

  • Cocktail of choice ingredients and tools

  • Whole milk, room temperature

    • Note: for dairy-free guys and gals, while milk alternatives such as soy, almond and oat are useable, they do not curdle as well as full-fat milk. Coconut cream is the most effective non-dairy replacement.

  • Cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer (you can also use a coffee filter, but the straining process may take longer)

  • Funnel

Let’s get to clarifying!

Start by crafting your *acidic* cocktail in a large bottle, pitcher, carafe or container of your choice. Make sure the ingredients and flavors are well-mixed.

Next, measure out your cool or room temperate milk. (Do not use ice cold milk as it will inhibit the curdling needed for this process.) Traditional recipes use a 1:4 ratio of milk to cocktail—one part milk for every four parts mixed drink. Add the milk into a separate container. Then, sacrifice your crafted cocktail to the dairy gods by slowly pouring it into the milk. It is essential to pour the cocktail into the milk, not the other way around, so the milk curdles gradually and not instantly.

Let your milky concoction sit in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. Warning: science-y things lie ahead. As it sits, the citric acid in your cocktail will cause the milk to curdle and form small clumps. This coagulation is what separates the solid particles from the clear liquid. You can let it rest for longer, even overnight, to make your cocktail as refined and smooth as possible. Clean the vessel you originally used to mix your cocktail while you wait.

Time to strain. Place a funnel and cheesecloth or mesh strainer over the cleaned container. Pour the lumpy mix through the strainer and funnel to filter. Is it disgusting? Maybe. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Your mix will take a few hours to fully filter into crystal-clear liquid deliciousness, so place it in the fridge. When it’s done, strain it a second time over a funnel and cheesecloth or mesh strainer into another container. This second strain isn’t required, but it will make sure to get rid of the smaller lumps and any remaining cloudiness.

Voilà! You have a smooth-as-silk, shelf-stable batch cocktail, ready to serve. We know what you’re wondering—are clarified cocktails just an overblown fad for hipster bartenders? Is this process really worth it?

Sure, clarified cocktails have reclaimed popularity in recent years, but this method has been around for centuries. Cocktail clarification is a historic trick for crafting velvety, flavor-enhanced cocktails with a longer shelf-life and pristine texture, and it’s not going anywhere. Even when the cocktail trend mill cycles again, this technique will still be a mixology go-to.

Try these clarified cocktail recipes that go down real smooth:

Pineapple Milk Punch

Milk punch is the OG clarified cocktail, so you can’t go wrong with this recipe. Plus, the acidic zing of pineapple is the ideal contender for clarification. Gear up for sticky summer days with this balanced, refreshing pineapple milk punch. Watch how to make it here.

Ingredients:

Tools:

  • 2 pitchers, carafes, or containers

  • Measuring cup

  • Wooden spoon

  • Cheesecloth or coffee filter

  • Funnel

Instructions:

Add pineapple juice, rum, brandy, simple syrup and lemon juice to a pitcher, carafe or container. Shake or stir with a wooden spoon until well-mixed. Pour into whole milk and place in fridge to curdle for 30-60 minutes. Once curdled, strain over cheesecloth into separate container. Pour in a glass with ice and garnish with pineapple slices. Serves 6-8.

Clarified Classic Margarita

Clarified Classic Margarita

If you want to put a clarified spin on a classic cocktail, the margarita is your gal. Regular margaritas never disappoint, but wait until you sip on the zesty, elevated harmony of tequila and lime with this clarified margarita recipe. You may never go back!

Ingredients:

Tools:

  • 2 pitchers, carafes, or containers

  • Measuring cup

  • Wooden spoon

  • Cheesecloth or coffee filter

  • Funnel

Instructions:

Add tequila, liqueur, lime juice and simple syrup to a container. Shake or stir with a wooden spoon. Pour into whole milk and place in fridge to curdle for 30-60 minutes. Once curdled, strain over cheesecloth into separate container. Pour over glass with ice, salted rim and lime wedges. Serves 6-8.

If you’re in the market for more citrus-forward cocktail recipes, check out our recipe page.

Interested in learning more? Visit our ABC Blog page.