Crafted by an Australian mixologist in a Manhattan bar during the early stages of the modern cocktail revolution in 2005, the Penicillin emerged in the vibrant atmosphere of New York's Lower East Side drinks movement. In an era where classic cocktails from the pre-Prohibition period were being revitalised, and contemporary masterpieces like the Gold Rush were born, the Penicillin stood out. While the Gold Rush was essentially a whiskey sour with honey, the Penicillin elevated this template with additional intricacies and a more elaborate flavour profile.
Sam Ross concocted the Penicillin cocktail in the mid-2000s while tending bar at the renowned Milk & Honey in New York City. Rapidly establishing itself as a modern classic, this cocktail has transcended borders and is now savoured globally, solidifying its position as one of the most significant cocktail success stories of the 21st century.
At the age of 22, newly arrived in the United States from Melbourne, Ross experimented one quiet night, creating a Gold Rush variation by dividing the sweetener base evenly between honey syrup and freshly pressed ginger juice. Seeking a less sweet and more mellow spirit, he replaced bourbon with blended Scotch, whose malty undertones complemented the ginger's boldness. To enhance the aroma, a quarter-ounce of smoky Scotch was delicately floated atop the drink, adding an extra layer to the flavour profile.
In a period when many Americans were rediscovering their love for classic Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, the Penicillin cocktail dared to engage the palate in a manner distinct from other contemporary drinks. Its extraordinary complexity, slight eccentricity, and undeniable deliciousness set it apart in an era of cocktail exploration.
The name "Penicillin" pays homage to the comforting qualities of ginger and honey, traditionally associated with soothing remedies for illness, whether in the form of a cough drop or a warm cup of tea.
Balanced with a harmony similar to that of a Whiskey Sour, the Penicillin combines blended scotch, lemon, and sweetened syrup to offer a delightful interplay of sweetness, tartness, and spice. Topped with a touch of Islay scotch, the cocktail's genius lies in maintaining the smoky aromatics of the spirit, ensuring each sip is a flavorful experience, complemented by the addition of candied ginger as a welcome garnish.
Over the next year or so, the Penicillin would maintain its status as a New York secret, occasionally concocted at select bars within a close-knit community when patrons inquired about off-menu "bartender's choice" cocktails. It was only exclusively known to a bartenders’ Illuminati group, if you will.
Among those patrons were bartenders who, enamoured with the cocktail, began incorporating it into their own menus, helping cultivate a cult following. The cocktail's popularity would swiftly spread nationwide, earning it the title of "the most well-travelled and renowned new cocktail of the 21st century," as noted by cocktail historian Robert Simonson in his 2016 book, A Proper Drink.
Add the blended scotch, lemon juice and syrup into a shaker with ice, and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice.
Layer with the Islay single malt scotch on top.
Garnish with a piece of candied ginger.