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Introduction to the Penicillin Cocktail

The Penicillin cocktail is a symphony of flavors that has captivated the palates of many since its inception. A modern classic, this drink is a testament to the creativity and innovation found in mixology. Its unique combination of smoky, sweet, and spicy notes makes it a standout choice for cocktail enthusiasts.

Created by the renowned bartender Sam Ross, the Penicillin cocktail has quickly risen in the ranks of contemporary cocktails. Its medicinal moniker hints at the soothing properties of its ingredients, particularly the honey-ginger syrup. This cocktail is not just a drink; it’s an experience.

Whether you’re a scotch aficionado or a curious newcomer, the Penicillin promises a journey of taste with each sip. Its bold flavors are perfect for sipping on a chilly evening or as a sophisticated addition to your cocktail repertoire. Let’s dive into the essence of this modern marvel.

Key Facts About the Penicillin Cocktail

Alcohol Volume: Approximately 24% ABV

Calories: Approximately 200 kcal

Carbohydrates: Approximately 18 g

Preferred Glass: Rocks glass

Typical Garnish: Candied Ginger

Interesting Facts about the Penicillin Cocktail

The Penicillin cocktail is not just a drink; it’s a nod to the healing power of its components. The honey-ginger syrup is reminiscent of home remedies for colds, while the scotch adds a warming sensation.

Despite its recent creation in the 21st century, the Penicillin has already achieved a status akin to classic cocktails from the Prohibition era, showcasing the dynamic nature of mixology.

Its creator, Sam Ross, is also known for other famous concoctions, but the Penicillin remains one of his most notable contributions to the cocktail world.

Penicillin Cocktail Preparation

Tasting Notes for the Penicillin Cocktail

The Penicillin cocktail is a complex tapestry of flavors. The smokiness of the scotch is perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the honey and the sharpness of the lemon. The ginger adds a spicy kick that lingers on the palate.

This cocktail is ideal for those who appreciate a drink with depth and character. It’s particularly suited for colder months, providing a warming embrace with each sip. The Penicillin is also a great conversation starter at gatherings, appealing to both seasoned cocktail lovers and novices alike.

Its versatility makes it a perfect fit for various occasions, from casual get-togethers to more formal events. The Penicillin is a drink that not only tastes great but also tells a story with its rich array of flavors.

History of the Penicillin Cocktail

The Penicillin cocktail was born in the mid-2000s, a creation of bartender Sam Ross at the famous Milk & Honey bar in New York City. It quickly gained popularity, becoming a staple in the cocktail scene.

The inspiration behind the Penicillin comes from classic cocktails like the Whiskey Sour and the Gold Rush. Ross’s genius was in adding a layer of complexity with the Islay scotch, which introduced a smoky dimension to the drink.

The cocktail’s name, Penicillin, is a playful reference to the medicinal ingredients of honey and ginger, known for their soothing properties. It’s a modern drink with a nod to the past, both in its name and its flavor profile.

As the cocktail spread from its birthplace in New York to bars worldwide, it became a symbol of modern mixology’s ability to create new classics. The Penicillin is a testament to the enduring art of cocktail creation and the ever-evolving tastes of drinkers around the globe.

Penicillin Cocktail Ingredients

Blended Scotch Whisky: 2 oz (60 ml) – The backbone of the cocktail, providing a smooth base with subtle smoky notes.

Fresh Lemon Juice: 3/4 oz (22 ml) – Adds a bright, citrusy tang that cuts through the sweetness and enhances the drink’s refreshing quality.

Honey-Ginger Syrup: 3/4 oz (22 ml) – This homemade syrup brings a sweet and spicy flavor that is both comforting and invigorating.

Islay Single Malt Scotch: 1/4 oz (7 ml) – Introduces a potent smokiness that gives the Penicillin its distinctive finish.

Candied Ginger: (for garnish) – A sweet and spicy garnish that complements the drink’s flavor profile and adds visual appeal.

Did you know?

“The Penicillin cocktail is often credited with popularizing the use of Islay scotch in mixed drinks, introducing many to the world of peated whiskies.”

Penicillin Cocktail Ingredients

Penicillin Cocktail Method


Begin by filling a cocktail shaker with ice to chill the ingredients and dilute the drink to the perfect strength.


Add the blended Scotch whisky, fresh lemon juice, and honey-ginger syrup into the shaker. This combination forms the sweet, sour, and spicy base of the cocktail.


Shake the mixture vigorously for about 20 seconds. This not only chills the drink but also ensures that the flavors are well integrated.


Strain the concoction into a chilled rocks glass filled with fresh ice, creating a smooth texture without any ice shards.

Finishing Touch

Float the Islay single malt Scotch on top by gently pouring it over the back of a spoon. This technique allows the smoky scotch to sit atop the drink, offering a burst of aroma with each sip.


Finally, garnish with a piece of candied ginger on the rim of the glass. This not only adds to the visual appeal but also provides a hint of spice to complement the drink’s flavors.

Serving Suggestion for the Penicillin Cocktail

The Penicillin cocktail is traditionally served in a rocks glass, which allows the aromas to concentrate and enhances the sipping experience. The wide brim also makes it easy to enjoy the garnish with each sip.

For the garnish, candied ginger is not just for show; it’s an integral part of the drinking experience. The sweet and spicy flavors of the ginger echo the syrup within the drink, creating a harmonious finish.

Elevating the Penicillin Cocktail

Quality Ingredients

Using premium scotch can significantly enhance the drink’s flavor profile. Opt for well-regarded brands of blended and Islay scotch for the best results.

Homemade Syrup

Creating your own honey-ginger syrup ensures freshness and allows you to adjust the sweetness and spice levels to your preference.

Proper Technique

Mastering the art of floating the Islay scotch is crucial. It requires a steady hand and patience, but the layering effect is worth the effort.

Elevated Penicillin Cocktail

Substitutions and Alternatives for the Penicillin Cocktail

If you’re out of Islay scotch, a dash of smoky mezcal can provide a similar effect. For a non-alcoholic version, try using ginger beer in place of the scotch for a refreshing twist.

Similar cocktails that share the Penicillin’s DNA include the Whiskey Sour and the Gold Rush. These classics also balance sweetness and acidity but without the smoky notes of the Penicillin.

Add a Twist to the Penicillin Cocktail

Infuse the honey-ginger syrup with additional spices like cinnamon or clove for a more complex flavor profile. Another idea is to add a splash of apple cider to introduce a fruity note that complements the existing flavors.

For a summer variation, muddle fresh berries in the shaker before adding the other ingredients. This will give the Penicillin a seasonal freshness and a beautiful color.

Preferred Liquors for the Penicillin Cocktail

When it comes to blended Scotch whisky, brands like Monkey Shoulder or Johnnie Walker Black Label are excellent choices for their smoothness and subtle smoky notes.

For the Islay single malt, Laphroaig or Ardbeg are highly recommended for their pronounced peatiness, which adds the signature smokiness to the Penicillin.

Similar Cocktails to the Penicillin Cocktail

The Smoky Sour is a close relative, using a similar base of whisky and lemon but with a different sweetening agent. The Rusty Nail, with its combination of Scotch and Drambuie, also shares the Penicillin’s affinity for honeyed flavors.

The Ginger Smash is another alternative, highlighting the spicy kick of ginger with a variety of spirits. These cocktails offer a similar balance of flavors and are perfect for those who enjoy the Penicillin’s complexity.

Food Pairings to Go with the Penicillin Cocktail

Pair the Penicillin with smoked salmon canapés to echo the smoky notes of the scotch. Spicy nuts or ginger-flavored desserts also complement the cocktail’s flavor profile.

For a more adventurous pairing, try serving the Penicillin with sushi. The drink’s bold flavors can stand up to the umami of soy sauce and the sharpness of wasabi.

Penicillin Cocktail FAQs

Can I make the honey-ginger syrup in advance? Yes, it’s recommended to prepare the syrup ahead of time and refrigerate it for better flavor infusion.

Is there a non-alcoholic version of the Penicillin? While the scotch is a key component, you can substitute it with ginger beer or a smoky tea for a non-alcoholic take.

What if I don’t have Islay scotch? You can use a smoky mezcal or a dash of liquid smoke in a pinch, but the unique flavor of Islay scotch is preferred.

How important is the garnish? The candied ginger garnish adds both visual appeal and a complementary flavor, so it’s an important finishing touch.

Can I use bottled lemon juice? Fresh lemon juice is preferred for its bright, zesty flavor, which bottled juice often lacks.


Penicillin Cocktail

The Penicillin cocktail is a modern classic created by bartender Sam Ross. This refreshing drink is known for its distinctive blend of smoky scotch, the sweetness of honey, the zing of fresh lemon, and the spice of ginger. It's a perfect choice for those who enjoy a cocktail with a balance of bold flavors.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
0 minutes
Calories 200 kcal


  • Cocktail shaker
  • Jigger
  • Strainer
  • Rocks glass
  • spoon


  • 2 oz Blended Scotch Whisky
  • 3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 3/4 oz Honey-Ginger Syrup
  • 1/4 oz Islay Single Malt Scotch
  • Candied Ginger for garnish


  • Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  • Add the blended Scotch whisky, fresh lemon juice, and honey-ginger syrup to the shaker.
  • Shake well until the outside of the shaker feels cold, about 20 seconds.
  • Strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
  • Float the Islay single malt Scotch on top by pouring it over the back of a spoon.
  • Garnish with a piece of candied ginger on the rim of the glass.


Honey-ginger syrup can be made by combining equal parts honey and hot water, then infusing the mixture with fresh ginger. Allow it to cool before using.
Keyword Classic Cocktail, Ginger, Honey-Ginger Syrup, lemon juice, modern classic, Penicillin Cocktail, Sam Ross, Scotch, Smoky Scotch

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