Strong Medicine

It’s not even three weeks into the new year, and here I am already breaking my “don’t blog” resolution by finally putting up a drink post (that Jan. 1st thing was more an announcement, so don’t bug me with the details). What’s prompted me to break my long blogging drought? Mixology Monday, what else, this round hosted by A Mixed Dram, and focusing on “New Horizons” — in short, mixing with stuff you don’t usually use.

I’m perhaps more prone to habit than most, and as a result my liquor closet is literally overflowing with the predictables — rum, rye, gin, assorted liqueurs — and rather slim on spirits I rarely use, such as vodka, pisco and cachaca (though the good folks who market Leblon, Boca Loca, Cabana and probably someone else I’m forgetting have made sure I have plenty around should the mood hit). Shamefully, one of the spirits that rarely makes its way into my mixing glass is scotch whiskey. I suppose I have some excuse — as agreeable as scotch can be on its own, it has a predisposition to surliness when forced to room with other ingredients — but still, for a spirit that has such a wide flavor profile and so many appealing characteristics, it’s one I rarely use (not that I dislike it in a cocktail, though — drinks such as the Blood & Sand or the Cameron’s Kick are in my permanent repertoire).

Here’s a relevant cocktail that I’ve had scribbled in my notebook for a while, but until tonight have yet to put together: the Penicillin Cocktail. Created by Sam Ross of Milk & Honey in New York, the Penicillin is not only made with a base of blended scotch — which tends to have a gentle, mellow flavor that typically makes it more versatile as a cocktail ingredient than single malts — but it’s served with a float of Islay scotch, a style of the spirit so bristlingly potent in aroma and flavor that it takes the blend’s twin descriptors of “gentle” and “mellow” and smashes their little heads together in its burly grasp. Easing the meeting of the two is a good dose of ginger-honey syrup, along with a bit of lemon, which helps everything balance out.

Penicillin Cocktail

  • 2 ounces blended scotch (I used Famous Grouse)
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce ginger-honey syrup
  • 1/4 ounce Islay scotch (I used Laphroaig)

Combine blended scotch, lemon juice and syrup in a shaker, fill with ice and shake well. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and float Islay scotch on top.

For ginger-honey syrup (my recipe; chime in if you use something different): combine 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until well combined. Add an ounce or so of peeled, sliced fresh ginger and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely; strain.

Wow — between the ginger and the lemon, the whisky’s assertive tendencies are kept well in check. Not that they’re suppressed — Laphroaig’s trademark smokiness fills the glass, but the drink is balanced, enticing and, dare I say it, gentle.

That’s my mix for this round of Mixology Monday; head on over to A Mixed Dram to see the roundup of all participants’ posts.

31 Responses to Strong Medicine

  1. Wow, that sounds great–and I have some Laphroaig to use in it (will the Quarter Cask still work? I think so…)

    I’ll try to make up some ginger honey and report back.

    At my last party, our resident mixologist was mixing the Laphroaig and Benedictine, and I think a dash of grapefruit bitters. It was pretty amazing–does it have a name?

  2. Wow, what a coincidence. I was drinking a penicillin on Sunday night at Seven Grand. Love the way the ginger and honey play with the strong smokey notes of the Scotch. Really complex drink that’s loads of fun to explore.

  3. I’m not a big Scotch whisky drinker, but the Penicillin really is a delightful drink. Door 74 in Amsterdam serve a great variation too, the Mr Antoni, that uses a heavily aged genever – good stuff.

  4. Thanks for posting this great recipe, Paul! I made this drink last night as one of our Robert Burns night offerings, and it was a huge hit. Delicious!

  5. I’ve got a bad cold right now, sore throat and all the symptoms of the common annoying cold. This recipe might be just what I need to numb the body ache and coat the throat with soothing glory :-)

  6. I watched them make this at White Star (one of Sasha’s sister bars), and they make it with Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur. They also have some kind of syrup that they use. I’m not sure how that affects your recipe, but it works pretty well with your honey-ginger syrup.

  7. Great to see Sam’s amazing cocktail getting a plug, I think this is one of my favourite modern cocktails, from anywhere. Delicious, particularly in winter, and a great one to make at home if you have a few smoky single malts, all your guests can have a play at making one of their own. I have a weakness for Ardbeg 77. If you have a juicer you can skip the fussy peeling and just juice up a knob or so, it makes the syrup even more fiery, but very very delcious indeed.

    Jacob

  8. This is a great cocktail, although I think your version where the ginger is cooked with the syrup misses out on the great spicyness of the original. The original, I am given to understand, used a half-ounce each of honey syrup and ginger syrup balanced against the 3/4 ounce of lemon. But at Milk & Honey and Little Branch this is made by juicing ginger and mixing the ginger juice with sugar into a 1:1 simple syrup. As you may imagine, this has quite a bit of bite to it.

    It’s not really practical for home mixologists or pros who don’t expect to use very much of it in a night because gingerol, the chemical that makes ginger spicy and a relative of capsaicin, degrades significantly in 24 hours. Cooking ginger converts the gingerol to zingerone, which is not spicy.

    The solution, I think, is to use 3/4 ounce of honey syrup and to muddle several generous slices of fresh ginger in the mixing tin. This necessitates double straining through a fine tea strainer to hold back the ginger particles, but provides the spicy bite of ginger that I think makes this cocktail special.

    As a general rule of thumb I recommend against making a ginger syrup, unless you’re making it M&H style and using it all within a day or perhaps two at the most. Otherwise, I think it makes much more sense to simply muddle fresh ginger to-order with whatever syrup you’re using.

  9. A couple days ago Murray made me a “Mexican” version of this when I requested a tequila drink. I think he used lime instead of lemon. Didn’t catch which tequilas were involved other than that the float was a reposado. Not sure if this variation is his innovation, but whoever had the idea should get a damn medal. The taste was magic.

  10. Just had a great variation on the penicillin(the original of which is one of my very favorite drinks) at Flatiron Lounge last night. I had asked the bartender to improvise something that prominently featured the smokiness of mezcal, and after a bit of consideration she whipped up a penicillin variant with a tequila base(I believe silver but am slightly hazy on that) subbed for the famous grouse, and with a mezcal float subbing in for the laphroig. It was wonderful.

  11. Paul, thanks for the honey ginger instructions, I think I’m going to make some today. I first had the Pencillin Cocktail at Little Branch a year ago when I was fortunate enough to stumble across Mr. Ross, I have been a fan ever since. I visited him at M&H earlier this month when I returned NYC.

  12. At an exclusive cocktail joint in NYC I had this drink last night– it was the best cocktail I’ve ever had.

    At that place, they juice the ginger using a juice machine, so the bar tender said- then they throw that in as an independent ingredient, along with the honey, lemon, and scotch- on the rocks.

    it seemed to me like they were using more Laphroig than blended scotch, but maybe that’s just the strength of the smell. It smelled and tasted wonderful

  13. [...] given muddled berries with gin, over crushed ice. Caroline likes ginger. Anthony had read about their famous Penicilin, made with blended scotch, ginger, honey, and lemon. Le has one of his regulars. Every drink is [...]

  14. I didn’t have any ginger and used some velvet falernum, the clove flavor goes great with the scotch and lemon

  15. Hey everyone…
    I’ve been making this cocktail for years and its def one of my favorites.
    Here is how I make my honey-ginger and I’m pretty sure it’s similar to what Sam does.

    Syrup = 2 parts honey / 1 part hot water
    If I am making 750ml I use a juicer to juice 1/3 cup
    Of fresh (peeled) ginger root and shake it into my syrup!
    The freshness and flavor you get from the juice beats boiling and it’s pretty consistent because you don’t have to worry about the boil/evaporation.

    Sam Ross might even do a 3:1 syrup as he tends to do thicker syrups which lead to a nice mouth-feel and less dilution of the cocktail.

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