The Esquire Tavern is one of the most historic bars in Texas. From 1933 to 2005, it enjoyed an uninterrupted run, and after a comparatively brief closure, in 2011 it was restored and reopened to acclaim. Now the Esquire team has pulled off another feat: it has reimagined its long-abandoned basement, once home to a Mexican diner, as a sumptuous cocktail den, known simply as Downstairs.
Reminiscent of a concept album, the debut menu for Downstairs is composed entirely of corn-based cocktails, a tribute to the native grain of Mexico. Corn is distilled as a whiskey, infused into a gin, made into a “fresh-corn syrup,” and used as a base in the fabulous Sin Maíz No Hay País.
Consisting of corn, mescal, sherry, tea, milk, fresh lemon, and simple syrup, this concoction is not your typical brunch-in-New-Orleans-style milk punch. It is a clarified milk punch, utilizing a centuries-old process from England that has come back into fashion among cocktail cognoscenti in recent years. Cold ingredients are added to heated milk, causing it to curdle. The liquid is then filtered and strained, imparting a silky texture without the creamy appearance. The process is time-consuming, but its worth is immediately revealed upon the first sip.
Before the industrial revolution, drinking culture was essentially a communal thing, groups of people gathering around a shared vessel as opposed to ordering individual portions. Following this tradition, this corn-milk punch is meant to serve four to six people. The drink is the result of an age-old technique applied to a contemporary setting, an ancient-meets-modern mash-up not unlike the Esquire itself.
Serves 4 to 6
10 ounces mescal
5 ounces Palo Cortado sherry
5 ounces lemon juice
2.5 ounces simple syrup
5 ounces black tea, brewed and strained
1 pint milk
2 cups raw corn kernels
Combine mescal, sherry, lemon juice, simple syrup, and tea in a pitcher and set aside. Over low heat, simmer milk and corn kernels about 40 minutes, then bring to a boil. Remove from the stove and add to the punch mixture and stir.
Strain through a “super bag” or a cheesecloth-lined chinois into a ladle and pour the liquid in, allowing it to splash up the sides. Continue to strain through the bag without cleaning the bag—the milk curds will act as a clarifying agent. Repeat this 3 to 5 times. Once the liquid is clear, chill and serve. (The punch can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.)
*Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the name of the cocktail. We regret the error.