• V
  • GF
  • NS
  • DF
  • View Recipe Key

Scotch Whiskey Cocktail: The Penicillin


Scotch Whiskey Cocktail: The Penicillin

The Penicillin is a Scotch Whiskey cocktail made with lemon, honey, and ginger. Find out how to make it and what earned the drink its intriguing name!

Scotch Whiskey Cocktail: The Penicillin //

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure is at the bottom of the article.

I don’t often make cocktails at home, but when I do, it’s usually something easy and zesty, such as a paloma cocktail or a mojito.

When I go out to a restaurant or bar I know makes great cocktails, I’m more than happy to treat myself to a creative drink. Several years ago, I visited Los Angeles, and Scotch whiskey cocktails were all the rage. Living with someone who is a Scotch whiskey aficionado, I’d never thought of using it in cocktails. First, I don’t think my partner would have let me use any of his expensive bottles in a cocktail (ha!), but then, Scotch whiskey had always been too strong for my taste, certainly for enjoying it neat as he does.

But after seeing Scotch whiskey cocktails listed on all the cocktail menus I was getting my hands on, I decided to give one a try. I spotted “The Penicillin,” which included so many ingredients I love—lemon, honey, and ginger—and went for it. It was love at first sip! I became obsessed with the Penicillin cocktail and started a quest to sample all the Penicillin cocktails that came my way on that trip. Let me reassure you: not all cocktails were enjoyed on the same night! 

The ingredients you need to make The Penicillin cocktail, a zesty drink make with Scotch whiskey //

Helpful Tips for Making the Penicillin Cocktail

Who invented the Penicillin cocktail?

The Penicillin cocktail was created in 2005 by Australian bartender Sam Ross, who was working in a renowned Manhattan bar, Milk & Honey, at the time.

Why is it called the Penicillin cocktail?

The quirky, medicinal name of the Penicillin cocktail is a nod to two of its central ingredients, honey and ginger, which are often combined and consumed when one feels sick, be it in cough drops, syrup, or tea form.

The ingredients of the Penicillin cocktail are also similar to those of a hot toddy, a warm beverage believed to relieve the symptoms of cold and flu.

Honey and ginger, two of the central ingredients in the Penicillin cocktail //

What does the Penicillin cocktail taste like?

If you’re the kind of person who asks the bartender, “What do you have that’s not too sweet?” (like I am), you’ll love this cocktail. It’s bright and sour and smoky and a bit spicy and just sweet enough to sand off its sharp edges. It’s the kind of cocktail you drink slowly and savor every sip.

Can I substitute any variety of Scotch whiskey for the smoky Islay variety?

Bartender Sam Ross served the original Penicillin cocktail in a rocks glass with a straw and floated the smoky Scotch over the cocktail as a finishing touch. Smoky Scotch whiskey is incredibly aromatic and you would smell it as you drank your first sips. It sort of played with your senses and this is what made the cocktail intriguing and so delicious.

Smoky Scotch whiskeys come from Scotland, obviously, but mostly from a small island called Islay. The most famous ones (and easier to find) are Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg. These bottles tend to be expensive, so I would understand if you’d be reluctant to invest in a bottle just to make this Penicillin cocktail.

The Lagavulin Distillery in Islay, Scotland //
The Lagavulin distillery in Islay, Scotland

If you’ve got friends who enjoy Scotch whiskey, ask them if they have bottles from Islay, and if they do, if you can borrow half an ounce to give it a try in this Penicillin cocktail. It makes the drink so complex and interesting.

However, if you do not have access to a smoky Scotch whiskey and don’t want to purchase a whole bottle of it, you can skip it and make the Penicillin cocktail with any variety of Scotch whiskey. I personally like to use a well-balanced, slightly sweet one, such as Johnnie Walker Red Label. This Scotch whiskey has a slight smokiness to it, so it does contribute a delicious flavor and aroma to the cocktail.

Scotch Whiskey Cocktail: The Penicillin //

Scotch Whiskey Cocktail: The Penicillin //

Scotch Whiskey Cocktail: The Penicillin

The Penicillin is a Scotch Whiskey cocktail made with lemon, honey, and ginger. Find out how to make it and what earned the drink its intriguing name!
Prep Time:5 minutes
Cook Time:2 minutes
Cooling Time (for the Honey Syrup):1 hour
Servings 1 cocktail


  • oz blended Scotch one that’s more sweet than smoky, and not too expensive, such as Johnny Walker Red Label
  • ½ oz Islay single malt Scotch such as Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Laphroaig, or Ardbeg (optional)
  • 1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 oz honey syrup (see note)
  • 3 thin slices fresh ginger


  • Place the slices fresh ginger in a shaker and use a wooden muddler or wooden spoon to muddle it until it is bruised and broken up. Add the blended Scotch, Islay single malt Scotch, lemon juice, and honey syrup, and add lots of ice cubes. Shake until the cocktail is icy cold, about 20 seconds.
  • Strain in a glass filled with ice cubes. Garnish with an additional slice of ginger, and enjoy right away.
  • NOTE: How to make honey syrup: Mix equal parts honey and water, and heat until the two are fully combined. Store in an airtight glass jar and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Did you make this?

Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.

Disclosure Notice: This site is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for the site to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites.

If you click on an affiliate link, I may earn advertising or referral fees if you make a purchase through such links, at no extra cost to you. This helps me create new content for the blog–so thank you! Learn more about advertising on this site by reading my Disclosure Policy.

Author: Marie Asselin

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 2 minutes
Cooling Time (for the Honey Syrup): 1 hour


Rate + Review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

  1. Los Angeles has a great collection of wonderful cocktails. It is nice that you tasted many of them. Penicillin is an amazing choice for all those who don’t like very sweet drink.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. The tip to use equal honey and water is worth trying. Keep posting such recipes.