The Penicillin, a smoky, ginger-y, lemon-y scotch cocktail, might not be as old as some other classic cocktails but has risen quickly through bars the world over to become a popular mainstay of cocktails
Created by bartender Sam Ross in 2005 this drink has been riffed on countless times but the original recipe is still a simplistic genius. Take a blended scotch, add honey syrup and ginger, brighten with some lemon juice and float a Smokey Islay on top with a candied ginger garnish. The results are you’ve got one delicious cocktail.
The sweetness from the honey syrup, the spicy aromatic zing of the ginger and the smokiness from the scotch float all add up to one happy palette. Some variations drop the smoky scotch all together, some float mezcal instead of scotch to get a different smoky note. The fact that the original recipe is itself a variation of other cocktails leads to this version being played with over and over.
A Brief History:
The Penicillin itself is a “play around with stuff” type cocktail creation. Sam Ross created it in 2005 at Milk & Honey, a famously popular New York bar, as a variation on the bourbon-based Gold Rush, another Milk & Honey drink created by T.J. Siegal in 2001.
The Gold Rush, meanwhile, has the DNA of an updated whiskey sour. Everything is everything. It all connects in the cocktail world. However this recipe was fresh, tasty, and it took off like wildfire.
Thanks to a visit to Los Angeles in 2007 to the now-closed Comme Ça, where he trained many other bartenders who went on to run their own bar programs, the drink spread to the west coast and went on its way from there.
Now it’s a modern classic that any bartender worth their salt should know. Imagine, you put some ingredients you like in a glass that you’re just messing around with and a few years later THE WORLD is drinking it. Thanks, Sam Ross!
“The Braveheart” a West coast variation of the Penicillin created at Tasting Kitchen in LA, was taken off the menu 4 years ago. It’s still their most popular drink today.
Pro Tip: To make the honey syrup cCombine 1 cup honey, 1 6-inch piece of peeled and thinly sliced ginger and 1 cup water in a saucepan over high heat, and boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes. Place in the refrigerator overnight. Strain. Enjoy.
We love the Penicillin and hope that you’ve been able to tell! It’s a great modern classic that you should order on your next visit to the bar. Let us know in the comments if you like the original recipe or any fun variations you’ve come across.
Enjoy the Penicillin for now and I'll be back next week with another drink. Thanks for reading and as always...
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