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Cocktail stories: Neon Milk Punch, The Union Trading Company

A ‘nostalgic moment’ kick-started the idea for Yao Lu’s boozy spin on a US kids’ cereal, which he serves at his Shanghai watering hole The Union Trading Company.

Neon Milk Punch, The Union Trading Company
The Neon Milk Punch at The Union Trading Company

*This feature was originally published in the December 2023 issue of The Spirits Business.

A stalwart of the Shanghai cocktail scene, Union Trading Company might have a pedigree that’s seen it place on many of the world’s best bars lists, but that doesn’t stop co-owner Yao Lu and his team from having any fun.

Yao Lu, The Union Trading Company
Yao Lu, The Union Trading Company

“When we make cocktails we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Lu says.

Besides the exceptional drinks, the bar is loved for its neighbourhood-bar-style camaraderie and lack of pretension, summed up by its Neon Milk Punch.

Lu was inspired to create the cocktail a year ago – “I was having a nostalgia moment”, he recalls. “I remember going to sleep watching ’90s adverts in the States and an ad for Fruity Pebbles came up. That kind of just inspired the idea of using Fruity Pebbles cereal milk in a cocktail.”

This isn’t the bar’s first time of making cereal cocktails – a Cinnamon Toast Crunch has made an appearance on the menu before. “That turned out really well, and people seemed to enjoy it,” Lu says.

Spurred on by the success, Lu also wanted to do something with clarification, a process that’s all the rage in Shanghai’s bar scene. He continues: “For me it was how do we take that clarified formula and make something a little more fun. A little more funky. One way we did that was to incorporate cereal milk into the whole equation and play with colour.”

Lu first makes the cereal milk. Once that is steeped, he then strains out the cereal and leaves the milk. Next he adds citrus and the basic spirits. When you do that “the milk itself will curdle”, he explains. “This is the start of the clarification process, use that curdle milk batch and then seep it a few times through coffee filters, and what you end up with is a clarified liquid.”

To bring out the purple hue, the liquid is infused with butterfly pea flower and Fruity Pebbles. Yao says that Fruity Pebbles is a very colourful cereal. “Food, colour and sugar, essentially – we just thought it would be fun to embrace that in the drink.” The cocktail is garnished with a sprinkle of Fruity Pebbles on top, something that, according to Lu, brings a slight crunch and extra layer to the drink. “Not only does the garnish look nice, but also when you drink it there’s a different texture whenever you taste the cereal.”

Other places where the punch could be served? “Imagine yourself living in a futuristic cyberpunk world. What would that drink look like?” he adds. Just maybe not at breakfast.

Neon Milk Punch

44ml Beefeater gin
22ml Pineapple juice
22ml Fresh lemon
14ml Gardenia syrup
30ml Fruity Pebbles cereal milk*

*Recipe for cereal milk: take 296ml of whole milk, three cups of Fruity Pebbles cereal and infuse for two hours, then strain.

Batch and clarify the cereal milk with the ingredients. Infuse with butterfly pea flowers and Fruity Pebbles until purple. Strain and bottle. Stir in a Nick & Nora glass with cubed ice. Garnish with Fruity Pebbles.

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