The penicillin is a modern classic. The mix of scotch, honey, ginger, and lemon also really hits well this time of year, with the snow falling and the air icy cold. Think of it this way, the penicillin is kind of like an ice-cold hot toddy. It’s medicinal at its core with all that honey, ginger, and lemon, while still feeling like a well-rounded professional-level cocktail.
There are two key elements at play with this cocktail. One is the whisky. The base of the cocktail is a blended scotch, usually a sweeter one. Then, there’s a smoky or peated scotch float that goes over the cocktail at the end. It adds this really vibrant opening to the drink that soon fades into the sweeter flavors that define the rest of the cocktail.
The second element is the honey-ginger syrup (we’ll explain how to make it below — but it’s easy, don’t worry). The marrying of fresh ginger to the honey cannot be skipped. It adds this sharply spicy yet sweetly honeyed depth to the cocktail that helps it really pop.
Besides that, this is a pretty straightforward shaker. You don’t need much to make it in your kitchen either. If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, just use a jar with a lid.
Let’s get shaking!
- 2-oz. blended Scotch whisky
- 0.75-oz. honey-ginger syrup (see recipe below)
- 0.75-oz. fresh lemon juice
- 0.5-oz. peated Scotch whisky
- Lemon peel
I’m using Johnnie Walker Black because that’s the blended scotch that I find matches best with the peaty scotch I’m using for the float. For that bit, I’m using Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition — a subtly smoky scotch that I feel will really shine with this drink’s sharpness and sweetness.
What You’ll Need:
- Rocks glass
- Small pot
- Box grater
- Small bottle
For the honey-ginger syrup:
Ideally, you’re going to need to make this at least one day ahead of time. It needs to steep overnight to really allow the ginger to infuse into the honey syrup. All told, you’ll have enough to make plenty of cocktails, hot toddies, and honey-ginger lemonades for a week or two.
- Add 1 cup water and 1 cup honey to a small pan.
- Grate a 2-inch piece of ginger and add it to the pan.
- Bring to a low simmer while stirring occasionally for five minutes.
- Pour the syrup into a jar or Tupperware, cool in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, run the syrup through a sieve (making sure to press down on the ginger to get all those juices) and into a waiting bottle.
- Fill a rocks glass with ice.
- Add the blended scotch, lemon juice, and syrup to the shaker.
- Top with ice, secure lid, and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosted over.
- Strain the cocktail into the waiting rocks glass over the ice.
- Float the smoky whisky over the cocktail.*
- Spritz the oils from the lemon peel over the drink, rub the peel around the glass, and then drop the peel in as a garnish.
* I generally eyeball this pour. I hold a bar spoon over the cocktail so that the bowl of the spoon is facing down. I then gently pour a little bit of whisky on the back of the spoon. It should rest the whisky nicely on top of the cocktail.
I could drink about five of these, if that’s what a cold winter’s day demanded of me. The beauty of this drink is that moment of smoky whisky cut with lemon oils that greets you but quickly fades into the sharpness of the ginger and velvet of the honey.
By the second half of the drink, you’re getting plenty of malty whisky notes with a real lemon brightness. The ginger and honey never really fades, holding the center of the drink the whole time. The end has a distant echo of the smoky whisky, adding a nice dimension to the overall experience.
This is a wintry winner and is going to stay in the rotation for the next couple of months.