Milkshakes: From a whiskey cocktail to the shorthand of pure love,

Chef Sharad Dewan waxes eloquence on the most popular, sinful indulgence

The sight of a dew-dropped fluted glass filled with a velvety, smooth drink, a cherry propped on top and a paper straw lazing on the side nudging you to reach out for it. If there has been one drink that has been outrageously romanticised – both in an innocent, gullible way and with naughtiness, on screen and off it as well - it is the loved-across-generation Milkshake. Such has been its presence as the iconic drink of innocuous flirtation that for generations at length milkshake – which incidentally was a clever trick to sell malt drink by a pharmacy named Walgreens – became the shorthand for sweet, good old,uncorrupted innocent love. A message that was further catapulted with Archie comic, where a date meant a milkshake – not any other kind but the simple milk, ice with two scoops of vanilla icecream, pulverised in a mixer, filled in a fluted glass and shared with two. A notion of old fashioned love that films like Grease and Shallow Hal further bolstered. Such was the Milkshake Hangover from these mediums that Milkshake had come to epitomise the idea of hanging out, fun and of course all thing gooey. This perhaps explains why these creamy, velvety drinks entice people across ages.

But ever wondered where exactly did Milkshake come from? Fascinatingly, milkshake that has come to mean many things – a summer afternoon’s quench, a reunion’s treat, a happy breakfast – began its journey as a whiskey drink. Back in 1885, when the term “milk shake,” which was a colloquial term of shaken to milk consistency, first appeared it was for a whiskey drink made of spirit and egg – and was easily the cousin of eggnog. And for a good few decades meant a stiff adult beverage till the advent of electric blenders in 1911. The coming in of mixers changed not the adult drink industry as much as it worked for supplement industry, who found a unique way to sell their fare by terming their malt drink to be a milk shake. After all, it did use a few spoons of milk to make the drink. It wasn’t 10 year later that milkshake – at least the way we know it – appeared thanks to Pop Coulson, who began adding two scoops of vanilla ice-cream to make the drink creamier, and hence more appealing.

1936 proved to be the year of milkshakes when it went from being a healthy, malt drink to an indulgence thanks to ice-cream machine and refrigeration. The first outlet to score were the delis, who sold it as their “indulgence” fare – prized a little higher to the soda pops that were big at the time. Called Frosted, milkshake gradually went on from being an aspirational order to the order in 1950 with restaurants creating flavours on demand. If you had the scoop, you could make it. And the one brand to do so with élan was McDonalds.

Fascinatingly, while milkshake grew to assemble more flavours under its umbrella – that included frappes and smoothies as well –it survived the two culinary renaissances without a change. Even by early 2000, milkshakes followed the good old recipe of one flavour (fruit solids), milk, ice and ice-cream as and when required. It was a ratio that was directly proportionate to the popularity of the milkshake. What may have worked in milkshakes favour was the screen endorsement: from Mia Wallace to Uma Thurman to Gwyneth Paltrow to Michelle Pfeiffer and even Daniel Day Lewis happily glugging the pink drink that came to symbolise milkshake worldwide.

But the journey of Milkshake didn’t end here. In 2016, thanks to Anna Petridis, the good old shake had a rejigged – and this time to something more ornamental and OTT called Freakshake. The idea of this 2016 big innovation was to outdo some of the notion of indulgence. And of course to up the game of shaking new twists to good old milkshakes.

Has it worked? For Anna, yes; for the rest, well, it does have its “wow” value – after all it is a free license to run amok with imagination. And 8 out of 10 times the whole idea of putting together such outrageous sweetness works well too, after all, there isn’t a right recipe to freakshake – much like there isn’t one to make the perfect milkshake except the ratio. So what makes a good freakshake? First keep the base simple, because you are going to layer it with interesting stuff. Second, try not playing pairing but contrast – so for every two layers of sweet, do a layer and half of savoury. Texture is very important, so think brownies, crackers, pralines and even flavoured popcorn as topping.

For best result, always layer it – much like the whiskey drink it originally was. And you would have a perfect freakshake – or as Wally Lamb once said, “the better side of heaven.”

As told to Madhulika Dash