The Kazakhstan Story: Horse Milk Cocktails
Oh milk...glorious milk! For thousands of years you’ve been the nourishment of humanity as we progressed through the ages from cave- men to hipster-sapiens, giving us a steady supply of nutrients, healthy teeth, bones & delicious cheese.
In modern times we’ve expanded our knowledge of different types of milks with the rise of vegetarianism in the form of almond, cashew & soya being the most common found in your barista’s repository. But what if there was a more “radical” alternative?
Que Kazakhstan, the land that we only knew existed in the Western World thanks to Sacha-Baron Cohen’s man-kini wearing character Borat. Sitting in a barren field we were 20 mins away from “milking time” except I wasn't surrounded by lab-coats or cows but rather by horses & manure. We were there to buy fresh horse milk, fermented horse milk know as “kumis” & camels milk for the sake of cocktail “research” especially since dairy- products have been one of the key components of some of the most iconic cocktails in history - most notably the Ramos Gin Fizz, Grasshopper e.g.
Before many of you jump on the band-wagon of critiquing this practice we have to take a look back at history, culture & geo-location.
The first mention in literature of the consumption of horse milk & specifically of its fermented brother “Kumis” can be traced back all the way to the writings of Herodotus of Greece(circa. 463 BC) during his account of the contact between the Greeks & the Scythian horse raiders of the Eastern plains. Fast forward thousands of years & archives show that during the last breaths of the Russian Empire there were many “Kumis Health Centres” located around the area of modern Kazakhstan advertising the miracle properties able to cure everything from leprosy, impotence to gout & sodomy. Famous Russian writers such as Tolstoy used to visit these places with the hopes of curing them of their ills.
Nowadays the consumption of horse milk is still popular in the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan & Mongolia with low-scale commercial versions available on supermarket shelves or “artisanal/craft” versions sold by elderly communist women straight on the side of the road in plastic unmarked bottles.
It has to be mentioned that the practice of using horse & camels milk in products follows the trend of “innovation through necessity” and is attributed to the fact that most of the countries in this region are landlocked. You’re forced to use what you have at hand in order to survive & we’ve all heard about water being mildly deadly at best back in the day...
In order to ferment & produce Kumis we must first milk the mare & this can be a bit of a nightmare in itself. The mare is usually milked 5-7 times per day in regular intervals of 2 hours, each time producing roughly over a litre of milk & unlike cows she will not give milk unless her young is present & suckling. This is one of the reasons why large scale horse milk production is impossible.
Once the milk has been procured it used be fermented inside leather sacks but now usually wooden barrels are used in a “Solera” system with a small amount of the previous batch of Kumis still present in the barrel. If fermenting for the first time the Kazakhs have been known to use hay, soured cows milk & even innards to start the fermentation process. The whole mixture is regularly mixed & this kickstarts lactic fermentation within the milk.
CONSUMPTION: Horse milk consumption doesn't vary overly much from consumption of cow milk in cultures from other countries. It’s not found in cafe’s as an option in your flat white but then again Starbucks hasn't moved into the country yet either, the economic climate & slow hospitality progress hasn't allowed a hipster there to order a Venti Horse milk Caramel Kazakh-chino yet.
It should be noted that by its chemical structure horse milk is the closest animal milk to resemble human milk in its composition. It is also easier to be consumed by the human body than cow milk & has a lower number of concentration of lactose.
Most horse milk is fermented into Kumis to be consumed within a week as a digestif after a meal or boiled, sun-dried & rolled into little salty balls called “Kurt” so be eaten as snack accompanied by a nice cold beer. Kumis can be fermented for up to 3 days & every extra day of fermentation changes the flavour composition & alcoholic concentration of Kumis of up to 3% alcohol by volume.
Where local cafe’s fail & local culture doesn't venture past tradition there is always a brave bartender with too much time on their hands ready to stick the most daring of ingredients into a cocktail.
That local bartender in Kazakhstan is Dmitri Korolev of Barmaglot Bar in Almaty, the cultural capitol of Kazakhstan. Armed with an edgy haircut, tongs & trendy apron he set out to combine traditional Kazakh ingredients with modern mixology.
Naturally the first drinks that springs to mind is none other than the classic Ramos Gin Fizz, our experiments led us to the conclusion that if you’re all about the head on a Ramos then horse milk is your friend. The meringue like froth is thick & super stable with much more smaller bubbles then a regular Ramos. WIN!
Our next experiment was a glorious bastardisation of the contemporary classic “Trinidad Sour” from Giuseppe Gonzalez in the form of the “Kazakh in Trinidad”. All the ingredients of the original with an added new balance of lemon & Kumis. The lactic sour note adds a completely new level of depth to the drink & smoothes out the bitterness of the Angostura without drowning it out. Fabulous!
“Kazakh in Trinidad”
Ingredients: 25ml Angostura Bitters
25ml Rye Whiskey
20ml Orgeat 10ml Lemon Juice
As the old saying goes “Even though we CAN I’m not sure we SHOULD”. Just from a cultural perspective I don't see horse milk products catching on any time soon outside the region of origin. Globalisation could also find these old techniques slowly dying out from existence & just the psychological barrier of drinking a horse I milked 2 hours ago is hard to get over.
There is a chance some corporate backed Californian health guru could add this his/her pseudo-diet & we’ll see the explosion of new Horse products in the Western world. #HorseMilkTrend