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!
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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 Penicillin cocktail was created in 2005 by Australian bartender Sam Ross, who was working in a renowned Manhattan bar, Milk & Honey, at the time.
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.
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.
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
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.
Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.
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Author: Marie Asselin
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.
The Penicillin is still my go-to cocktail of choice! I’ve grown wary of supersweet cocktails and this one’s just right. Thanks for stopping by, Alex!