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A guide to Gasparilla drinks, from Milk Punch to rum concoctions

There’s a lot of history pouring into the glasses along the parade route for the brunch (and even breakfast) cocktails.

Tampa has been a drinking town since its early days, and the city’s fondness for strong drinks is on display.

Saturday’s Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest marks more than 100 years of the city celebrating the fictitious pirate Jose Gaspar with a day of revelry. Perhaps no one knows more about that than Kasia Nowakowska, the beverage manager for the Tampa Yacht and Country Club. She will be making 90 gallons of Bloody Marys and more than 120 gallons of the club’s signature Milk Punch, a strong brandy drink satiating the pirates in the morning for a century.

Commanding the kitchen mess hall this week, she ordered 80 gallons of milk, four cases of heavy cream, 60 pounds of sugar to make simple syrup and 10 cases of Mr. Boston Five Star Brandy.

“It’s very simple. Only four ingredients,” Nowakowska said. “It’s an interesting combination of brandy and the cream, but it’s a classic drink and so popular. We literally have pirates coming in at 6 a.m. to get their makeup on and we start serving them ... and by noon we will be all sold out.”

Kasia Nowakowska, beverage manager for the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, prepares a Milk Punch cocktail. It contains brandy, simple syrup, heavy cream, milk and is garnished with nutmeg. [CHRIS URSO | Times]

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, the founders of the pirate invasion, have their own, much stronger version of a Milk Punch (see recipes below). Rodney Kite-Powell, historian at the Tampa Bay History Center, says the milk punches could have been modeled after similar milk punches served in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, “but milk punches have a long European history, so don’t be so quick to think it’s a copy of Mardi Gras.”

Related: Gasparilla 2020: What to know before you go

Most of the Gasparilla krewes have their own version of a Milk Punch, said Jeff Houck, a marketing manager and former food writer at the Tampa Tribune who wrote the forward for Tampa With a Twist, a snapshot of Tampa’s bar scene published by Visit Tampa Bay last year.

“It’s like the mint julep during Kentucky Derby," he said. "Every krewe has its house version, and it’s not just brandy, but bourbon and vodka and other great quantities of booze ... enough to kill a large parrot by accident.”

A Milk Punch cocktail at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club is set among Gasparilla decorations. Many krewes have their own versions of a Milk Punch cocktail for Gasparilla morning. [CHRIS URSO | Times]

The yacht club opened in 1904, the same year that Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla began dressing up as pirates to “invade” the city. It happened on horseback at the time. As the party grew, the yacht club eventually became home base for Gasparilla, with the first Captains Ball held there in 1910. And Milk Punch has been a part of the morning tradition since the beginning, said Brenda Terry, president of the Tampa Bay chapter of the U.S. Bartenders Guild, who served as the yacht club’s beverage manager herself for many years.

“You have to start the day with a brandy milk punch because it’s the oldest and historically was served at the first Gasparillas, so it’s the traditional way to start your morning,” Terry said, though she prefers to go with half brandy and half bourbon in her recipe along with heavy cream, crushed ice and vanilla syrup.

The morning of Gasparilla, the kitchen staff at the yacht club will get started around 4 a.m., said Scott B. Fairbairn, the general manager of the Tampa Yacht and Country Club. They will go through 5,000 eggs, 1,200 pounds of fried chicken, 200 pounds of bacon and sausage, 500 pounds of potatoes and 2,000 biscuits. About 2,000 pirates and family members will show up to feast and get ready.

Related: Ye Mystic Krewe does not own the name ‘Gasparilla.’ Here’s who does.

The Milk Punch will be ready in 10-gallon dispensers normally used for Gatorade. The cocktails will be poured over crushed ice with a sprinkling of “gun powder," or nutmeg, to start the morning off.

”The theory is the milk coats their stomachs," Fairbairn said.

Besides the creamy punch, Terry said a daiquiri and a rum rummer both qualify as historically accurate drinks for Gasparilla. Their origins are similar to the grog British sailors drank on ships from the 1780s as a means of preventing scurvy.

“They had to drink lime juice to keep scurvy away, so it’s a classic pirate drink,” Terry said.

Ro Patel, the mastermind of mixology behind the Collection bar at the Hall on Franklin in downtown Tampa, noticed that the last few years Gasparilla revelers were stopping by in the morning for coffee and a Bloody Mary to “pre-game” the parade. So he started tinkering with the idea of a breakfast drink. His creation: I Feel No Pain ($14), a 16-ounce concoction of three kinds of rum, fresh orange and pineapple juices with coconut cream topped with a thick layer of black strap and cold brewed coffee rum.

Ro Patel, the mastermind of mixology behind the Collection bar at the Hall on Franklin in downtown Tampa, came up with a breakfast drink for Gasparilla called I Feel No Pain. It has three kinds of rum, fresh orange and pineapple juice with coconut cream topped with a rick layer of black strap and cold brewed coffee rum. [Ro Patel]

“You can sip it for the coffee flavors and then it’s layered with all these rums and you hit the tiki mix of OJ and pineapple juice and it’s like cereal,” Patel said.

Brian Bosco, owner of the Red Star Rock Bar in Seminole Heights, recently opened an Ybor City location at 1708 E Seventh Ave. For his bar’s first Gasparilla, the former Gaspar’s bartender come up with a cocktail called Rooty Booty made with Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, a brown sugar simple syrup, ginger beer, two dashes of black walnut bitters and a torched lime wheel for that nice smoky pirate touch.

At Red Star Rock Bar, owner Brian Bosco has come up with a cocktail for Gasparilla called Rooty Booty. It's made with Captain Morgan spiced rum, a brown sugar simple syrup, two dashes of black walnut bitters and a torched lime wheel. [Brian Bosco]

“This is a more savory drink for a chilly afternoon with the ginger and brown sugar, because sometimes Gasparilla day is cold,” Bosco said. A 16-ounce mug of the warm-me-up drink is $8.

Tampa’s Epicurean Hotel is hosting its first Gasparilla party at its rooftop cocktail lounge, EDGE. Special cocktails include Pirate’s Punch, a tropical twist on a mojito with pineapple-infused rum, passion fruit, lime juice, mint and club soda. And there’s the Mai Epic Mai Tai, described as a “more spirit-forward version of a mai tai,” with a blend of multiple spiced rums, amaretto, lime juice, aquafaba, Peychaud’s and angostura bitters. $120 admission includes draft beer, house wine, well spirits, and hors d’oeuvres. And, of course, breakfast cocktails.

Tampa’s Epicurean Hotel is hosting its first Gasparilla rooftop party this year at its rooftop cocktail lounge, EDGE. Special Gasparilla cocktails include Pirate’s Punch, left, a tropical twist on a mojito, and the Mai Epic Mai Tai. [Epicurean Hotel]

We gathered some recipes to consider for your own pirate party.


Tampa Yacht and Country Club Milk Punch

2 ounces brandy (or 1 ounce bourbon and 1 ounce brandy)

1 ounces milk

¼ ounce heavy cream

¾ ounce simple syrup

Fresh nutmeg

Mix all the ingredients except nutmeg and chill until very cold. Serve over crushed ice with a sprinkle of fresh nutmeg. Makes one drink.

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla Pirate’s Milk Punch

1 cup sugar

1 cup high-quality bourbon

1 cup French brandy (such as cognac)

1 cup high-quality vodka

2 ounces pure vanilla extract (do not use imitation)

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Whole milk

Combine the sugar, bourbon, brandy and vodka in a gallon container with a lid. Shake until sugar is dissolved. Add the vanilla and nutmeg; shake well. Add the milk two cups at a time until the jug is full, shaking well after each addition. Chill for 8 to 24 hours before serving. Serve very cold or over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Sprinkle freshly grated nutmeg over the top before serving.

Makes 1 gallon.

Source: Junior League of Tampa’s The Life of the Party cookbook

Made with Grey Goose and St. Germain, American Social's Gasparilla cocktail is a feisty mix of citrus juice, soda water, basil, cucumber and blackberry for an adult version of a classic punch. [Danielle Nicole Photography]

American Social’s Grey Line

1 basil leaf

2 cucumber slices

2 blackberries

1½ ounces Grey Goose

½ ounce St. Germain

½ ounce fresh lemon juice

½ ounce simple syrup

Soda water

Add basil leaf, cucumber and blackberries into a shaker and gently muddle. Add ice and all liquor ingredients. Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a cocktail glass with new ice. Top with soda water.

Shipwrecked, a light, citrus mix of melon liqueur, coconut rum and pineapple juice, is a suggested Gasparilla drink by ABC Fine Wine and Spirits. [ABC Fine Wine and Spirits]


1 ounce melon liqueur

1 ounce coconut rum

1 ounce dark rum

1 ounce pineapple juice

Mix all ingredients together in a glass with crushed ice.

Source: ABC Fine Wine and Spirits

Captain Morgan’s Backyard Fizz. [ABC Fine Wine and Spirits]

Captain Morgan’s Backyard Fizz

1 ounce Captain Morgan Spiced Rum

½ ounce fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon mixed berry preserves

3 ounces soda water

Mixed berries for garnish

In a shaker with ice, add Captain Morgan, lemon juice and mixed berry preserves. Shake and strain into a highball glass over ice. Top with soda water and garnish with berries.

Source: ABC Fine Wine and Spirits

The Captain's Table is a cocktail of gin, aperitivo, orange juice, grenadine and ginger ale. [ABC Fine Wine and Spirits]

Captain’s Table

2 ounces gin

½ ounce aperitivo

1 ounce orange juice

1 teaspoon grenadine

4 ounces ginger ale

Orange slice

Combine gin, aperitivo, orange juice and grenadine in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain over fresh ice. Top with ginger ale and garnish with an orange slice.

Source: ABC Fine Wine and Spirits