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

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. 


By Sam Ross, Bartender at Milk & Honey


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


  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…
End the day right with the 5 best nightcap cocktails
Want the perfect end to the day? Try one of these delicious nightcap cocktails
Two cups of hot toddies with cinnamon sticks on a piece of cloth.

A nightcap is not just a funny hat that people used to wear long ago to bed. It's a kind of cocktail, too, one that warms the soul and can send you right off to slumber town. Here, we break down the end-of-day drink and offer some quality recipes to boot.

These recipes involve all your favorite spirits, from rye whiskey and cognac to bourbon. You can make them individually or as big-batch cocktails to keep your evenings cozy all week long. So, before you slip into your favorite pajamas, visit the home bar and whip one of these great nightcap cocktails up.
What's a nightcap?
Simply put, a nightcap is a drink one has just before bedtime. The drink itself is meant to promote sleep and, arguably, some do this better than others. Most cite the hot toddy as the original nightcap drink, but there are actually quite a few that function in a similar fashion. These are not the tequila shots and coffee cocktails that start the party.

Read more
It’s time to stop being intimidated by beef tripe — here’s how to clean and cook it
Tips from Chef Michael Simmons outline how to do it at home
Braised tripe

If you consider yourself somewhat of a culinarian, a foodie, or an at-home master chef, then learning how to clean beef tripe and then cook it to perfection should be your next culinary challenge. Sure, organ meats can be intimidating at first, especially if you’re not used to the sight or texture of these delicacies. But if you ask us, one of the most overlooked offal cuts is tripe, which is typically made from the first three chambers of a cow’s stomach (though tripe can also be made from other animals). What a piece of tripe is named depends on the chamber it comes from.
Types of tripe
"Honeycomb tripe [which comes from the second chamber] is named for its honeycomb appearance and bible tripe [which comes from the third chamber] looks like the many folded-over pages of a book," said Mike Simmons, the chef and partner of Cafe Marie-Jeanne in Chicago. The third cut is called blanket tripe, which is smooth in appearance and comes from the first chamber of the cow’s stomach.

Most quality butcher shops and counters will carry tripe. And if you have a good relationship with your butcher, you can likely call ahead and ask if they'll order some and set it aside for you. "Usually it’s already cleaned but if it’s not, no worries -- it’s easy," Simmons says. All it takes is four simple steps to thoroughly clean tripe, which Simmons laid out for us here.
How to clean tripe

Read more
A dozen of the best tequilas for margaritas, according to bartenders
Want to make the best margarita for Cinco de Mayo? Start with one of these bartender-approved tequilas (and mezcals).
A served margarita sitting on a bar

Despite its greatness in the glass, there's not much to a good margarita. Meaning that the spirit in question — traditionally tequila but sometimes mezcal or even sotol — needs to be solid. It's the foundation on which the complementary citrus, sweetener, and salt are stacked.

While we have a good palate for these things, we like to put our trust in the tried-and-true professionals. In this case, we're talking bartenders, the skilled mixologists who have made countless margaritas. They've had the good fortune to test many tequilas and have come away with some of the best options when putting together this timeless cocktail.

Read more