Over the weekend, we passed a pleasant afternoon with friends reminiscing about great days of travel. It was a blast reliving moments on the road and hearing their stories of those amazing little bars or restaurants they stumbled across, the things they saw and, most importantly, the people they met. It seems like every adventure shared a common theme, whenever things got off track, when they left the prescribed schedule or plan, that is when the best stories occur. That has certainly been our experience. Every trip has its own special memories and the more we talked, the more nearly forgotten details came back to us. It was in the middle of an entirely different story that we remembered sampling a staple of the Barcelona drinking scene, a drink so ubiquitous that you don’t even have to find a bar to enjoy it. So, won’t you please join me now as we stand and make Leche de Pantera, the historic, Panther’s Milk.
Although this one is popular now, it was originally created in the 1920’s at the behest of the military to serve to recuperating soldiers in the city. This creamy yellow elixir was, allegedly, a favorite of the Spanish Foreign Legion, who would mix whatever alcohol was handy with canned sweetened condensed milk as a a homemade pain reliever. The drink fell out of favor for decades before being revived in the 70’s and it has been a staple ever since. There are several variations on the original recipe, mostly revolving around different colors, like the pink one with grenadine or the green version you get if you swap that grenadine for creme de menthe. I can see why, this is a solid base to play with if you want to try some different flavors and liqueurs.
I know I teased this as Panther’s Milk, but we are actually making Leche de Pantera Rosa, Pink Panther’s Milk, because I love the hue and the little kick of tropical flavor that the grenadine brings to this classic, but if you want to be an originalist, just leave it out. No harm , no foul. Grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce of gin, I chose one of my favorites, the mediterranean style, Spanish Gin Mare; and 1 ounce of either brandy or rum, I went with Clément Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole cask collection, aged in new french oak, to sort of split the difference between those spirits. To that add 1 ounce of sweetened condensed milk, 5 ounces of whole milk and a bar spoon of grenadine. Toss in some artisanal ice and shake to the beat of Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther Theme“. I mean how could you not? Seriously. If you want to sing the “dead ant” joke to yourself while shaking, well, all the better. When your tins are well chilled strain into a rockless rocks glass and grate a little cinnamon on top, just for the smell of it, as they say.
That is as lovely as remembered. Even though I had had it’s creamy yellow cousin before, I still expected this drink to be super sweet and it is just not. The gin and the rum come together to tone down that sweetened condensed milk. You don’t normally think of milk drinks as herbal, but you can really get that here. With a less vegetal rum that might not be as forward, but it works for me. It seems somehow counterintuitive to refer to a dairy drink as “refreshing” but that is the first word that comes to mind. Refreshing and creamy, like nothing else. A truly unique drink from an incredible city, whether sipped in a sidewalk cafe off La Rambla or on your sofa at home.
Barcelona has a strong cocktail culture and they are known in particular for their wonderful use of gin. This drink is no exception. It is unexpected, in the most delightful way. Of course, we started like everyone, sampling a great number of gin & tonics as we did our best to stay cool. There were lots of days where lunch consisted of a cool G&T in the shade with some pan con tomate and croquettes to keep us balanced. We definitely embraced the tapas lifestyle, with several small plates a day rather than big sit down meals. That works for me, especially since it gave us a chance to try lots of new things. Several friends had told us to be sure to visit Granja M. Viader for the churros and chocolate, which were amazing and lived up to their reputation. Of course, we washed them down with fine coffee and Leche de Mallorquina with lemon and plenty of cinnamon. Talking with the server, we were introduced to its alcoholic and far more interesting cousin, Leche de Pantera, which is often bottled and sold in bars and shops. We tried it and fell in love with it’s oddly light, yet filling taste. Like any drink with a heavy dairy component, you probably don’t want several of them, but they make a perfect nightcap to a wonderful evening wandering the streets and alleys of the Gothic Quarter or just an afternoon sharing drinks with friends, reminiscing about times on the Mediterranean sipping on la leche de pantera in the moonlight. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.