Skip to main content

How to perfect the Penicillin cocktail, according to an expert

A modern classic, this cocktail will help you feel better in more ways than one

Getty Images/iStockphoto Copyright: brent Hofacker

From Carthusian monks distilling herbal elixirs to frontier doctors employing whiskey as an anesthetic, alcohol has always had close ties to medicine. Modern invalids will still ask their bartender for a hot toddy when they’re feeling down, and plenty of people swear by the curative properties of their favorite cocktail. Even your cough syrup has a little hooch in it. But whether you’re after a remedy for what ails you or just a cure for the common cocktail, the Penicillin is good medicine. 

A modern classic, the Penicillin was invented by Australian bartender Sam Ross at Milk & Honey, the Lower East Side speakeasy that helped propel the cocktail revolution of the early aughts. Like all drinks that outlive the bars they were invented in, the Penicillin builds on a simple cocktail formula — the whiskey sour– with a couple of thoughtful tweaks that make it greater than the sum of its parts. The memorable name doesn’t hurt, either. 

Instead of American whiskey, Ross wanted to add a Scotch cocktail to the list, and he doubled down on the drink’s medicinal theme with a cold-curing combo of ginger, honey, and lemon. As a final touch, he floated a quarter-ounce of heavily peated Islay Scotch on top of the finished drink, ensuring every sip would begin with a warming, smoky aroma. 

Penicillin

By Sam Ross, Bartender at Milk & Honey

Ingredients: 

  • 2 oz. Blended Scotch
  • .75 oz. Honey-Ginger Syrup*
  • .75 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
  • .25 oz. Islay Single Malt Scotch

Method: 

  1. Combine blended Scotch, honey-ginger syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously
  2. Strain into a double old-fashioned glass over fresh ice 
  3. Float the Islay Scotch on the top of the drink by pouring over the back of a bar spoon

*For the honey-ginger syrup, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup honey and a 6-inch knob of ginger, peeled and diced. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Steep overnight, then strain out solids and store in a sealed container for up to one month. 

What you need to know

The magic of this drink is that it gets such bold ingredients to play nice with one another. Ginger and Islay Scotch would overpower a lesser cocktail, but their delicate balance here means that there’s no room for compromise. The spicy bite of fresh ginger can’t be faked, so do yourself a favor and take the time to make the real thing (it takes ten minutes, and you can drink your Scotch while you wait). And while the blended Scotch for the base might not play an essential role in the final product’s flavor, don’t skimp on the Single Malt. It’ll elevate your Penicillin from good to great, plus it’s one of the best whiskeys to have on hand in case of an emergency, medical or otherwise.

Editors' Recommendations

Ryan Polhemus
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Polhemus is a freelance drinker with a writing problem. He believes firmly in the power of short stories, long hikes…
How many glasses of wine are actually in a bottle? You might not like the answer
Apparently there should be more than two glasses in a bottle of wine?
Wine being poured at dinner table

If you're anything like me, you've never paid much attention to rules or regulations. Even as a child, I didn't pay any mind to those telling me what I should or should not do. Of course, there were and are rules of common sense put into place to keep us safe, and even my younger self could appreciate and abide by those. But if my teacher told me to use a red crayon, you could bet I would use a green one. If my piano instructor told me to play the white keys, I would only play the black ones. I wouldn't say I liked being told that there were lines and limits; honestly, I still don't. I get a little irked when given a guideline or a box, which is, perhaps, the reason I fell in love with food and wine. With food and wine, there aren't any limits...with two exceptions - baking (because it's either science or witchcraft, and I still don't know which) and how many glasses of wine there are in a bottle.
My evening routine tells me that there are approximately two to three glasses of wine per bottle, depending on the glass or mug I've selected from the cupboard, but apparently, this is not the case.

How many glasses of wine are in a bottle?
The sad truth is that there are five whole glasses of wine in one standard 750-milliliter bottle. This may come as a shock to those of us who could have sworn that an entire bottle contained only two glasses, but here we are. Don't shoot the messenger.

Read more
Move over, espresso martini — This whiskey-based coffee cocktail is so much better
Espresso martini alternatives: Meet the revolver cocktail
Revolver

If you’re a fan of coffee-based cocktails, you probably get your caffeine fix from an Espresso Martini or a classic Irish Coffee. And while these drinks are all well and good, there’s another coffee-based cocktail you need to add to your boozy, energetic rotation. It’s called the Revolver, and instead of vodka or Irish whiskey, it gets its alcohol base from the use of good ‘ol American bourbon whiskey (or rye whiskey if you need a little extra, peppery spice in your life).

The simple, elegant, caffeinated cocktail is made with whiskey (bourbon or rye whiskey). Coffee liqueur, orange bitters, and, for a little flair, a flamed orange peel. Not only is it flavorful with a nice mixture of whiskey sweetness (or spice if you decide to go the rye whiskey route), citrus, and bold, robust coffee, but it’s also surprisingly easy to make.

Read more
The drinks pro at the Four Seasons Oahu shares his twist on 5 classic cocktails
If you can't make it to the Four Seasons in Oahu, you can at least drink like you're there
A working bartender.

When it comes to classic cocktail recipes like the Negroni, rules can be broken. Sure, you have to honor the original but without a little added creativity, it's just another drink.

We reached out to Mike Milligan for some twists on some classics. He's the bar manager at Four Seasons Oahu at Ko Olina, on the island's stunning west coast. He not only offered a handful of great recipes -- ones patrons adore while sipping at the bar at Noe -- but some priceless tips too. In terms of the best resort drinks, the following deserve a spot towards the top of the list.

Read more