Unlike its namesake, the penicillin cocktail is not a life-saving antibiotic, nor does it actually contain any. It will make all sorts of ailments and problems seem better, though. It may actually have some medicinal qualities. The traditional version of the drink contains honey, lemon and ginger. The honey and lemon are pretty well known to soothe a sore throat, and the ginger is good for clearing up nasal congestion and settling an upset stomach. You don’t even have to be sick to enjoy a penicillin cocktail, either. It’s sweet and tangy, with just the right amount of alcohol, and a surprising zip from ginger, all of which make it a refreshing beverage for any occasion or reason.
The Penicillin is a blended Scotch-based variation of a Whiskey Sour. There’s also a float of malt Scotch added to finish the drink. Malt Scotch gives it a woody flavor, and the blended Scotch makes it a little spicy. The result is a complex, spicy, smoky, refreshing cocktail with a little bit of a kick. Other variations have been made from the recipe, using tequila, gin or rum instead of blended and malted Scotches. But, if you haven’t made it before, the original is a good recipe to start with.
The drink was created by Sam Ross in the early 2000’s. Ross was a New York bartender who worked at Milk & Honey at the time. The Australian created the drink just a year after having emigrated to the States from Melbourne. Since then, the Penicillin has nearly become a household name, rivaling the Cosmopolitan in popularity.
The original recipe was slightly complicated for the novice mixologist. It was made with a ginger-honey syrup, and a lot of beginners don’t know how to make syrups, let alone make them well. But, the problem with the syrup is that the ginger contained in it begins to lose its potency quickly. To combat this, bartenders and mixologists have came up with a variety of ginger options, including fresh ginger, candied ginger garnishes and ginger liqueurs. These alternatives ensure that there’s plenty of ginger flavor in the drink.
Best Penicillin Cocktails:
l The Original Penicillin: (2 0z. Blended Scotch whisky, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, 3/4 oz. ginger-honey syrup, 1/4 oz. Islay malt Scotch, slice of ginger)
DIRECTIONS: Add blended Scotch, juice and syrup into a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass with ice. Top with single-malt Scotch, garnish with a piece of ginger (fresh or candied)and serve.
Although the syrup is a little tricky to make, it’s well worth learning to make it. This is a refreshing, flavorful drink that will make you feel better, no matter what’s wrong with you. It’s best to drink this version fresh so that the ginger in the syrup doesn’t have time to lose its potency.
l Penicillin, fresh ginger version (2 oz. Blended Scotch whiskey, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, 3/4 oz. honey syrup, 3 slices fresh ginger, 1/4 oz. Islay malt Scotch)
DIRECTIONS: Put ginger into the bottom of a shaker and, using a muddler, muddle until it’s well mashed. Then, add blended Scotch, juice and honey syrup. Add ice and shake well. Strain into ice-filled rocks glass. Float Islay over the top and serve.
This version may not be any easier to make than the original, but it still packs a lot of flavor. The introduction of fresh ginger makes sure that it won’t lose any of its potency, and it may actually have a stronger ginger presence than the original. Be careful with this, though. There’s a difference between just enough ginger to clear out your sinuses or soothe an upset stomach, and so much that it’s too spicy to drink.
l The Penicillin, syrup and candied ginger version (2 oz. Blended Scotch, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, 3/4 oz. honey-ginger syrup, 1/4 oz. Islay malted Scotch, candied ginger)
DIRECTIONS: Put blended Scotch, syrup and juice in a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass with a large cube. Top with Islay and garnish with a slice of candied ginger.
This may be a good choice if you like your drinks sweet, or if you just really like ginger. The combination of the syrup and candied ginger add lots of flavor and make this drink slightly sweeter than other options on this list.
l The Penicillin, Liqueur version: (1 oz. Blended Scotch, 1.5 oz. Single malt Scotch, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, 3 spoons honey water, 1/2 oz. ginger liqueur)
DIRECTIONS: Add all ingredients in shaker with ice and shake. Strain into ice-filled glass. Garnish with candied ginger.
This version of the Penicillin is very simple to make. To make the honey water, you just combine a 3 honey to 1 water mixture. The ginger liqueur makes this recipe pretty foolproof, as well. If you want to kick it up a knotch, you could add some candied ginger as garnish.
Variations of the Penicillin:
l The Rusty Nail (2 oz. Blended Scotch whisky, 1/2 oz. Drambuie liqueur, lemon twist)
DIRECTIONS: In a rocks glass, add all ingredients. Add a large ice cube, stir and serve.
This easy-to-make drink was actually popular in the 19930’s, long before the penicillin came into existence. However, its ingredients and taste are very similar. Being that it’s comprised of mostly alcohol, it’s very strong. You’ll most likely have to tinker with the measurements a bit to find your preferred taste. But, once you do, you might have just found your new favorite drink.
l Gold Rush Cocktail (2 oz. Bourbon, .75 oz. lemon juice, .75 oz. honey syrup)
DIRECTIONS: Put ingredients into shaker with ice and shake. Strain over ice in an Old- Fashioned glass.
There are very few differences between a Gold Rush and a Penicillin. Rather than using Scotch, it’s made with bourbon. It’s also a great alternative to a Penicillin if you don’t like ginger, simply because there’s none in it.
l Alternative Medicine (1.5 oz. Blended Scotch, .5 oz. Pierre Ferrand dry Curacao, 3/4 oz. carrot juice, 1/4 oz. orange juice, 1/2 oz. ginger syrup, 1/4 oz. Single malt Scotch, candied ginger)
DIRECTIONS: Add all ingredients, except single-malt Scotch and candied ginger, into a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into old-fashioned glass over a large cube. Float the single-malt Scotch on top and serve.
This interesting alternative was created by blogger Carla Camerieri. Instead of lemon juice, she used orange and carrot juices, giving it a great flavor, warm color and smooth texture. But, watch that you don’t drink too many of them. The addition of the orange liqueur may taste great, but that’s also a 3 different types of alcohol in one drink, which can pack a punch.
l Penicillin #2 (2 oz. Tequila, .5 oz. ginger syrup, .5 oz. honey syrup, 1 oz. lemon juice, Mezcal)
DIRECTIONS: Add everything, except for Mezcal, into shaker with ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass with ice. Float Mezcal on top and serve.
This Penicillin variation uses tequila in place of the typical blended Scotch base. And, rather than a ginger-honey syrup, it uses both ginger and honey syrups. So, if you’re making it from scratch, it could take a few moments longer to make than the original Penicillin.
l Blood and Sand 2.0 (3/4 oz. Corsair Triple Smoke “Strategic Hospitality” Single Barrel Whisky, 3/4 oz. Cherry Heering, 3/4 oz. Punt e Mes, 3/4 oz. orange juice, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, 1/4 oz. Demerara syrup)
DIRECTIONS: Add ingredients in shaker with ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass with ice.
Beverage manager at the Pinewood Social restaurant and bar in Nashville, Tennessee, Matt Tocco created the Blood and Sand 2.0. As the name suggests, it is a variation of the classic Blood and Sand, but with a Penicillin twist. The fruit juices and sugar balance out the smoky and spicy flavors of the liquor. It’s not likely that you have these particular brands of alcohol just lying around, but they’re easily substituted for something more easily obtainable.
The Penicillin recipe is as flavorful as it is versatile. You can use all sorts of different spirits as substitutions for Scotch, and you can use a number of different types of fruit juices. No matter which recipe you use, you’re in for a treat. The Penicillin is just what the doctor ordered to chase away the winter blues.