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
All I can say is Prost ! I hope you and your family are ok, stay safe and healthy.
Ginger, lemon and scotch...o..this definitely will HELP! I WANT one too :-)
Hi Gerlinde, Prost! We're doing well -- hope your are, too. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Angie, you'll want two. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh so great recipe drling
I am checking our liquor cabinet as soon as I finish typing this to see if we have a single malt scotch. I know I have everything else on hand, and this could make our nightly dose of Ozark much more fun!
Hi Sazkuranko, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Anne, this is a terrific drink! One of our new favorites. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Both the name and the ingredients sound medicinal, in a good way. Coronavirus is a whole new world of pain, but this might be good for an old-style cough. Honey... lemon...booze... there you go.
be well... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
This cocktail sounds absolutely delicious with the ginger, lemon and slightly sweet. Well balanced. Been thinking about you and your family and sending some positive thoughts your way. Take Care
Hi Mae, this is basically a cold version of a hot toddy. Which is absolutely good for a cough! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bobbi, we can use all the positive thoughts we can get! That's so sweet -- thanks.
What a beauty!!! I know I would love this cocktail.
Hi Pam, and really good, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Now that is quite a shot of penicillin! I love scotch so I know I would enjoy this drink. I hope things a better for you.
Hi Evelyne, things are OK. And you'd love this "medicine!" Thanks for the comment.
Ooh ginger in a cocktail! Sounds incredible! Another gorgeous drink that's perfect for this pandemic crowd!
Hi Laura, the ginger adds some nice zing. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I think my husband would love this cocktail. I have seen him having scotch with ginger in it.
Well it may not cure corona but it sure could cheer us up! Glad you are back John and hope you are well. Thinking of you.
Hi Balvinder, bet he would like it! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, good to be back! And this will certainly cheer us up. :-) Thanks for the comment.
My dad was always a bourbon drinker and my mom prefered scotch. Then they spent a year in Scotland and my dad discovered Lagavulin. That was always an easy gift for him. He would have loved this!
Welcome back from your brief hiatus.The name of this cocktail is not very appealing, but the ingredients certainly are!
So I guess this one is a modern classic. GREG
It sounds like you have a great treatment if not a cure ;)
Hi Liz, scotch is pretty seductive stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Fran, agree about the name, but the flavor is wonderful! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Greg, actually I think it's become one! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pat & Dahn, we'll keep on with the treatment until we're cured. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Is it a cure for the corona blues cuz I'll definitely take that right about now!
This has to cure most ills, ginger, lemon, scotch and finesse. A lovely healthy shot for sure.
Hi Ashley, yup, this will leave you feeling in the pink. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Merryn, it's really a delightful combo of flavors. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, I love drinks that are layered like this! Sounds delicious—and healthy(ish). Glad you're back, by the way.
Hi Terry, glad to me back! And this really is delicious. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a great drink to beat the coronavirus blues with, cheers and stay safe.
Hi Emma, this definitely chases the blues away! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I'm allergic to actual penicillin, so it's exciting I can have this drink! ;-) The combination of sweet and "zing" sound delicious. Covid blues or not, I'm in. ~Valentina
Love this bright color!
You're back! Yay. Love the ginger in this. I've been trying to do a couple of cocktail posts on my blog and I have to tell you, the photography is a challenge for me. I've always admired your drink photos John. high-five
Glad you're back and hope all is well. I love a good whiskey (or scotch or bourbon) cocktail and I adore ginger. As always, your notes contain fantastic information. While the ginger-infused simple syrup sounds fantastic, I would muddle as well. Cheers and be well!
Hi Valentina, zing is always good! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalia, pretty, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lea Ann, cocktail photography is HARD! One of the reasons we did our first ever Summer Sippin' Series (where we do a cocktail every other week) was so I'd have to learn how to properly photograph cocktails -- before then, although I usually got OK results, I had no idea why. It's all the light, and this is once instance where you really want lights you can control (flash or continuous light rather than natural light). Thanks for the comment.
Hi Debra, we love to muddle, so it's a no-brainer for us. Thanks for the comment.
Ginger, lemon and scotch ! what else we need. Btw I love these photos. simply loving it.
Love all the ingredients in this, John - and I bet it would be a good foil for the common cold with all that ginger, lemon, and honey! You are right - won’t kill the virus but it might calm our nerves. Stay well!
Hi Priya, thanks for that very kind comment.
Hi David, I thinking calming our nerves is the best we can hope for, at least in the short term. Thanks for the comment.
Hi R, yup! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I make so few cocktails with Scotch that I just gave a bottle away and now I'm wishing I had it. I'm hoping I was smart enough to keep another bottle in my stash because this sounds absolutely delicious.
wow this sounds like a heavy duty and delicious drink for sure! love the colour, and the great photos. drink up!
Hi Barb, it's really good -- tons of flavor. Know what you mean about scotch cocktails, though -- tough ingredient to use well in drinks. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sherry, this is a boozy drink, but a really good one. Thanks for the comment.
Hey, glad to see you're back, John. Hope things are going as best they can for you. This cocktail is just what we all need right now. I had no idea it was created so recently. Love that I always get a food history less when I stop by your blog.
Hi Laura, isn't this nice? Think we'll have this again tonight! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh John...I love everything in this cocktail...ginger, honey and lemon and I have everything here to make it...and like that I can use the scotch which I barely use.
Good to see you back...have a wonderful weekend and stay safe!
Hi Juliana, fun ingredients in this, huh? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Nice! I love scotch and have a fairly extensive collection. Lately I've taken to hot toddies as a nightcap. Works like a charm! Once the weather warms up a bit, this is next up!
Hi Frank, hot toddies are such a nice drink! This actually has a rather similar flavor profile, but of course it's a much better warm weather drink. :-) Thanks for the comment.
My kind of medicine! I think I might need a double dose these days. ;)
Hi Carolyn, I think we all need a double dose. :-) Thanks for the comment.
A very welcome drink! Sounds lovely.
Hi Amalia, it's wonderful! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Sounds like a delicious cocktail. I hope you are doing well.
Hi Dawn, it's a good one. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Thats a sad news I thought this will kill COVID-19 :)
Lol anyways as long as it kills the boredom blues why not! I will be skulling this in no time
Hi Raymund, alas, this is good for attitude adjustment only. But that's enough. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hope you are well John! This cocktail sounds delicious and it's exactly what I need today after being trapped at home for 2 months. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Yi, we all need this after being trapped at home! Thanks for the comment.
Ah hah! The cure!
Hi Jeff, yup. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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