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Shaking Up a Classic

Alcoholic milkshakes are back

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Salted-caramel milkshake - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL

For nostalgia buffs, the milkshake is an essential bit of postwar Americana, like burger joints and drive-in movies. 

But milk- or cream-based drinks have been around almost as long as American cocktails. In the 19th century, they were cocktails -- made from cream, eggs, sugar and a base spirit like whiskey. And during Prohibition, New York Times writer William Grimes points out, bartenders "unleashed a thousand alcoholic milkshakes." By the '50s and '60s, after-dinner milk/cream cocktails like the "Pink Squirrel" were widely popular.

No surprise, then, that as classics like the hamburger get a gourmet reworking, alcoholic milkshakes are reappearing too. BRGR in East Liberty, for one, offers "spiked shakes" that do more than give you brain freeze. With playful names (i.e. "Cupajoe" and "Orange You Glad?"), BRGR shakes (all $8) are made with whole milk and Dave and Andy's local vanilla bean ice-cream, served in a frosty tin container that's big enough to share.

Bartender Jay Dorio says that, surprisingly, ice cream and milk "bring out the alcohol." Bartenders at BRGR create the shakes as a team, Dorio says, and tinker with the menu every few months. 

On the current menu, the "Salty Caramel"-- which boasts Jim Beam bourbon and salted caramel sauce -- stays truest to the original "milkshake." The sauce dampens the bourbon, while drawing out the savory elements in the whole milk. "The King," meanwhile, is a sweeter, creamier option, made with 99 Bananas Liqueur, spiced rum and homemade peanut-butter sauce (fashioned after Elvis's PB-and-banana sandwich).

If you're doing some home grilling, try the classic "Grasshopper"-- an after-dinner cocktail originally made as a temperance drink with citrus juices and an egg. The minty 'hopper is perfect for summer lounging. Mixologist Dale DeGroff suggests 1 oz. Crème de menthe liqueur; 1 oz. Crème de cacao; 2 oz. heavy cream; shake over ice and strain into a chilled glass. But if you want a thicker "shake," substitute ice cream and lightly blend together. 

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