Drink to your health!
Let’s be clear upfront: Antibiotics like penicillin don’t work on viruses. So this won’t cure COVID-19.
But the Penicillin Cocktail can help ease the coronavirus blues. With its smoky, soothing flavor, this drink is attitude adjustment in a glass.
So mix up a round for your next virtual cocktail hour. It’s good for what ails us.
Recipe: The Penicillin Cocktail
Most of the cocktails we post about are “classic” drinks, created decades ago. The passage of time has made their origins murky (or even unknowable).
But the Penicillin Cocktail is a modern drink (created in 2005), so we know much more about its history. The drink was invented by Sam Ross, who learned bartending arts in his native Australia. Ross later moved to the US, where he developed this drink.
The Penicillin is one of the few cocktails that uses scotch whisky. And not just one type of scotch: It calls for both blended scotch and a smoky single-malt scotch. These get combined with lemon, honey, and ginger, creating deep flavor.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare and serves one.
- 3 slices fresh ginger
- 2 ounces blended scotch whisky (see Notes)
- ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¾ ounce honey simple syrup (see Notes)
- ¼ ounce Islay single malt scotch (see Notes)
- garnish of crystallized ginger (optional; see Notes)
- Place the ginger slices in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Using a cocktail muddler (or a mixing spoon), muddle the ginger until it’s well mashed.
- Fill the cocktail shaker about halfway with ice. Then add the blended scotch, lemon juice, and honey simple syrup. Shake until the contents are chilled (about 20 seconds).
- Strain the contents of the shaker into a rocks (Old-Fashioned) glass that’s filled with ice. We recommend using two strainers: A cocktail strainer (such as a Hawthorne strainer – the kind with wire coils – which prevents the ice from tumbling into the glass). Plus a fine-meshed tea strainer (to catch any bits of mashed ginger).
- Then carefully layer the Islay scotch over the surface of the drink. Add a garnish of crystallized ginger, if desired, and serve. (For the garnish, we slide a few pieces of the ginger onto a cocktail pick, and balance that on the glass — see photos.)
- We’ve made honey syrup (aka honey simple syrup) before, in our post about the Bee’s Knees Cocktail. Just scroll down to the Notes in that post for instructions on how to make it.
- When Sam Ross makes this drink, he uses honey-ginger syrup instead of honey simple syrup plus ginger slices. (To make honey-ginger syrup, just add about a dozen slices of fresh ginger to warm honey syrup and let it steep for 5 minutes or so before bottling).
- Using honey-ginger syrup makes sense for Ross, because his bar has to make dozens of drinks. At home, where we make only a few drinks in an evening, we prefer to muddle slices of ginger (an idea we got from drinks writer Paul Clarke).
- Why float Islay scotch over the top of this drink rather than adding it to the shaker with the other ingredients? Because Islay scotch has a particularly wonderful aroma – in addition to an equally wonderful (and strong) flavor. By floating the Islay scotch, you can experience that aroma before tasting the drink, which enhances the flavor of the drink itself.
- When adding the float, we often pour it over the back of a spoon so that it stays at the surface of the drink.
- Scotch whisky starts out as one of two types: Single malt (made at a single distillery from only water and malted barley). Or single grain (made at a single distillery, but – paradoxically – often with other grains in addition to barley).
- If you mix various batches of scotch together, you have blended scotch whisky. There are three kinds of blends: Blended malt uses 2 or more single malts from different distilleries. Blended grain uses 2 or more single-grain whiskies from different distilleries. And blended scotch uses one or more single-malt scotches along with one or more single-grain scotches.
- Most of the scotch you’ll find in liquor stores is blended. (And about 90% of the whisky produced in Scotland is blended scotch).
- Our favorite blended scotch is Famous Grouse, which has good flavor and is relatively inexpensive. But there are many other good blends around, including Ballantine’s, Chivas Regal, Cutty Sark, Dewar’s, J&B, and Johnnie Walker. If in doubt, ask your friendly liquor store clerk for a recommendation. That’s what we did when we made this drink (because the shop was out of Famous Grouse). Our salesman helpfully suggested a new (to us) blended scotch called Monkey Shoulder – which is well worth seeking out, BTW.
- Single-malt scotch can be rather expensive. And it’s usually consumed on its own (either neat, with ice, or with a splash of seltzer or still water), not in cocktails.
- Although single-malt scotch is made in a single distillery from 100% malted barley, it’s usually blended from different barrels (batches) made at that distillery.
- The character of single-malt scotches can differ depending on the region where they are made. Just as wines reflect the soil and environment where their grapes are grown (their terroir).
- Single-malt scotches also differ depending on how the whisky is produced. For instance, if peat fire is used in the malting process, that tends to impart a smoky flavor to the scotch.
- There are several different whisky-making regions in Scotland (Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Islay, and others). The scotch from each region has a distinct flavor. Islay scotch is known to have a particularly smoky flavor, largely because of the peat used in the malting process.
- Single-malt scotch is often very pale in color (almost clear). Some producers add a bit of caramel coloring, which doesn’t affect the flavor but will give the scotch an amber tint.
- There are many different single-malt scotches from Islay, but the best known is probably Laphroaig 10. Our friendly liquor store salesman recommended trying Ardbeg 10 as a good substitute for Laphroaig (which was out of stock the day we were shopping). We can report that it works splendidly in this drink.
- If you’re not a big scotch drinker, you may want to order the Penicillin Cocktail at a bar to make sure you like it before laying out cash to acquire the ingredients for this drink. Though when we’ll be able to drink at bars again is an open question, of course.
- Our usual reminder: We’re totally noncommercial and don’t accept compensation for mentioning brands. We buy our booze with our own money and suggest only what we’ve used and like.
- Crystallized ginger is fresh ginger that has been cooked in sugar water and then rolled in coarse sugar. It’s sometimes called candied ginger (though technically, “candied” fruit is stored in simple syrup).
- Don’t have crystallized ginger on hand? You can garnish this drink with a lemon twist instead. It’s not traditional, but it works well.
“Wow, where has this drink been all my life?” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “What an interesting, complex flavor.”
“Smokin’ good stuff,” I said. “One of these makes me feel fit as a fiddle.”
“And we don’t even need a prescription for it,” said Mrs K R. “Wonder how two would feel?”
“We’d be on top of the world!” I said. “Shall I mix us another round?”
“Yup, but just one more,” said Mrs K R. “More than that would be an overdose.”
You may also enjoy reading about:
Bee's Knees Cocktail
Rob Roy Cocktail
Blood and Sand Cocktail
Hot Toddy Cocktail
Improved Holland Gin Cocktail
Navy Grog Cocktail
Or check out the index for more