In 2005, bartender Sam Ross developed the Penicillin as a riff on the whiskey sour, with perhaps a nod to the Hot Toddy. Honey, lemon, ginger, all common ingredients of home remedies for cold and cough, are the three ingredients of a Penicillin. It is unusual because cocktails made with Scotch weren’t exactly common in the standard bar before this.
There’s nothing in the world that can’t be fixed by a cocktail – stiff, quick, and oh-so-refreshing. We have to say, over here within our team, we are partial to a good gin Martini. A great gin – a lot of the new Indian gins work wonders – and just a touch, no, just a hint of French vermouth, a few great shakes (no stirs) with cold cold ice, and we are off to the races. Speaking of races, did you know there is a horse connection to the original use of the word ‘cocktail’? The original use was as an adjective describing a creature with a tail like that of a cock, specifically a horse with a docked tail. But we are digressing – reining ourselves back to the liquid version of the ‘cocktail.’
To people who enjoy a good tipple – and who doesn’t? – finding The One cocktail to rule them all is akin to a mythic journey. You have to trudge a lot, taste a lot, trash a lot, and somewhere down the line (and down many bar lanes), there appears one that is just right. And it’s like the clouds cleared, the sun shone mellow and yellow, and the world is a lovely place. ‘Penicillin,’ given its association with hospitals and infection and war and misery, might not immediately invoke those happy associations, but boy oh boy, could you be more wrong? To a lot us, Penicillin is The One. And why not, it is a panacea for lost souls.
The story of penicillin is not very old – it is a relatively new addition in the pantheon of party poppers. ‘Milk and Honey’ is a bar that is familiar to people who have an interest in drinks and drinking places. Milk and Honey – with branches in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Soho in London – was the brainchild of cocktail wunderkind Sasha Petraske, responsible for so many of the world’s best-regarded bars. We lost Sasha at an early age (barely 42), but his legacy – specifically of starting the speakeasy revolution with Milk and Honey – endures. How can we forget the formal yet irreverent rules of etiquette? “No name-dropping, no star-f&$king;” “No fighting, play fighting, no talking about fighting;” “Gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies. Ladies, feel free to start a conversation or ask the bartender to introduce you. If a man you don’t know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him.”
Classic and unforgettable – just like the drink developed there. In 2005, bartender Sam Ross developed the Penicillin as a riff on the whiskey sour, with perhaps a nod to the Hot Toddy. The medicinal associations are obvious enough – honey, lemon, ginger, all common ingredients of home remedies for cold and cough, are the three ingredients of a Penicillin. The Penicillin is unusual because cocktails made with Scotch weren’t exactly common in the standard (or even specialty) bar before this. American whiskeys (and not Scotch whiskys, spelled without an ‘e’) were the usual mainstay for mixed drinks in most bars and with good reason. You see, Scotches are often strong and smoky and can dominate most other flavors that want to coexist with them in a cocktail. People have described peaty Scotches as tasting like iodine or formaldehyde or “getting hit in the face with a shovel” or, graphically, “like taking the bathroom door of a dive bar, lighting it on fire, and dragging it through a field of wildflowers.” But the spicy warmth of ginger & honey combined with the brightness of lemon makes for a cocktail that is as smooth as it is punchy. To top the drink off, Ross added a very peaty single malt Scotch, and et voila, your cure is ready, good sir/madam/other. One of the most successful cocktails invented in this millennium at your disposal. (Gold Rush and Paper Plane are the other, if you are curious.)
So, how do you make one?
This is the original recipe as its progenitor Sam Ross intended:
By Sam Ross, Bartender at Milk & Honey
- 2 oz. blended scotch
- 75 oz. honey-ginger syrup
- 75 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 25 oz. islay single malt scotch
- [For the honey-ginger syrup, you can do some prior prep and store: Combine 1 cup water with 1 cup honey and a 6-inch piece of ginger, peeled and diced. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Steep overnight, then strain out solids and store in a sealed container. Can stay up to a month.]
- Combine blended Scotch, honey-ginger syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously
- Strain into a double old-fashioned glass over fresh ice
- Float the Islay Scotch on the top of the drink by pouring over the back of a bar spoon
Mix and match, and find the whiskeys that work best for you. Don’t be afraid of the peaty boys – the penicillin mellows the sting.