I have never been entirely good at sleep, which makes me a good candidate for being a bartender. One of the things my mother would give me to get me to sleep was warm milk, something her mother gave her to help get her to sleep. Warm milk has had a soothing effect on people for a very long time. Part of why warm milk works as a sleep aid is scientific; calcium aids in the release of melatonin, relaxing the body and getting it prepared to sleep. The other is just the soothing comfort of a warm beverage.
Milk cocktails have been around as long as people have imbibed milk and liquor. The first uses for a milk punch were medicinal. People would add honey, spices, and liquor to their milk to drive out whatever was ailing them. This was known as a posset. A posset in this modern world refers to a lemony pudding, but enjoying a posset from the Middle Ages to about the mid 19th century was more complex. Lemon was added to the warm milk, which curdled it. Then you would sip out the whey at the bottom and finish up with the curds. The Irish have called it scáiltí, more a half and half mixture of whiskey and milk, with some honey and spices added for flavor. Even the venerable Benjamin Franklin had his own milk punch recipe. Milk punches can be served hot or cold, depending on how you want to enjoy it. Milk punches are also a staple for New Orleans brunches, utilizing brandy or bourbon for the spirit. They are are served cold.
Hot Milk Punch (from How To Mix Drinks, The Bon-Vivant's Companion)
1 tbs. superfine sugar
2 tbs. water
1 wine glass (2 oz./ 60 mL) cognac
.5 wine glass (1 oz./ 30 mL) Santa Cruz run
6 oz./ 180 mL milk
Garnish: Cinnamon, nutmeg, or any blend of spices
Ice: If you want to make it a cold Milk Punch, do not heat the milk and use cubes.
Heat up the water, milk, and sugar in a pot until it is bubbling. While you heat the milk, pour the cognac and rum into a warm mug. Once the milk is ready, pour the milk into the mug and stir. Sprinkle the cinnamon or other spices over the top and serve.
I am not a fan of warm milk. While it was offered to me, there is something about it that made my stomach turn a little. That is, before I tried this. It is quite delicious and very soothing. The spices add more on the nose than on the palate, so if you want something spicier you'd need more than a garnish. I can see pumpkin spice, chai, and apple spices working very well with this cocktail. Cognac and rum are the traditional liquors; brandy, rum only, and bourbon are also acceptable substitutes. If you are looking to create a new nightcap ritual, I strongly suggest this one. Preferably before you brush your teeth.