The Penicillin Cocktail: Just What the Doctor Ordered

by artfuldiner on September 16, 2022

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wining and Dining

Penicillin CocktailIn the title of his recent article in the Robb Report, Jason O’Bryan described the Penicillin as “the Most Successful Whiskey Cocktail of the Millennium (So Far).” And in his 2016 book A Proper Drink, cocktail historian Robert Simonson referred to the Penicillin as “the most well-traveled and renowned new cocktail of the 21st century.” Today, Penicillin is considered a modern classic; and yet, somehow, also a reminder of the past as well.

Mat Bar, The - IcelandBe that as it may… I freely confess that I had been absolutely unaware of this libation before I spied it on the cocktail list at the Mat Bar (pictured; full review at a later date), a cozy little gastropub in Reykjavik, Iceland, and decided to give it a try. The name, of course, caught my eye immediately, as did the intriguing list of ingredients: Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch, honey, ginger, lemon, and Angostura Bitters. If I order a cocktail before dinner, I prefer a predominance of bitterness rather than sweetness… and the Penicillin definitely exceeded my expectations.

Sam Ross, BartenderUnlike the Negroni cocktail, mentioned in a previous newsletter, which traces its history back to 1919, the Penicillin is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was created in 2005 by Sam Ross (pictured), a native of Melbourne, Australia, at New York City’s famous Milk & Honey Bar. Just 22-years-old at the time, he was experimenting with Gold Rush, a cocktail that featured bourbon, lemon juice, and honey. He decided to skip the bourbon and, instead, mix blended Scotch with fresh lemon and a homemade honey-ginger syrup. The result was a beautiful balance of sweet, tart & spicy, similar to that found in a Whiskey Sour. The real genius of the drink, however, was the quarter-ounce of smoky Scotch that he floated on top. Served in a rocks glass, it really spiked up the aromatics.

While the Penicillin is considered a modern classic, and is available across the globe – from lavish hotel lounges to local neighborhood bars & chain restaurants – it is also easy enough to shake up at home.


 For the Cocktail

2 oz blended scotch (I prefer Johnnie Walker Black Label)

¾ oz fresh lemon juice

¾ oz honey ginger simple syrup

Dash of Angostura Bitters (optional)

¼ oz peated scotch (I prefer Bowmore from the Island of Islay)

For Honey Ginger Simple Syrup

1 cup honey

1 cup water

4 inches fresh ginger peeled and chopped

Sam Ross - BartalkINSTRUCTIONS

 For the Cocktail

  1. Add the blended scotch, lemon juice, honey ginger simple syrup, and Bitters into a shaker with ice. Shake for 30 seconds or until well chilled.
  2. Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Top with the peated scotch and garnish with a piece of candied ginger.

For the Honey Ginger Simple Syrup

  1. In a medium saucepan combine honey, water, and ginger and bring to a boil, ensuring the honey fully dissolves.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat, allowing the simple syrup to steep for 30 minutes (or up to a day if you prefer a singer ginger flavor). Strain out the ginger and transfer the simple syrup to a clean glass jar.
  3. The simple syrup may be stored at room temperature for 1 week or in the refrigerator for a month.

One final note… In addition to the Penicillin, Sam Ross has also created three other incredibly popular cocktails that may be of interest: the Fort Lauderdale, Paper Plane, and the Conquistador. If you would like to watch all four of these cocktails being made, be sure to check out the following video on YouTube:


Be Safe & Stay Well


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