So this past weekend I am sitting in my favorite spot to be on a Saturday night in Philly when a drink appears in front of me called The Penicillin. I hadn’t ordered it, but suddenly it’s mine. This makes me pause for a minute because I was planning to cover Scotch whisky on the blog this week and this was one of the drinks I intended to share with all of you. Out of the blue I now have the opportunity to taste a version of it made by bartenders who I consider to be among the very best in the city. Call it a coincidence if you’re inclined to be that way, but I say it’s more than that. To me it’s serendipitous, or it’s good karma, or maybe it’s the fact that “the stars have aligned,” as someone keeps reminding me. “Come on,” some of you are saying. Don’t worry, I can hear you. “It’s such a little thing.” I disagree – everything has meaning, no matter how minuscule any given moment may seem, and this drink finding its way into my hands on this particular Saturday is just one of the many positive “little” occurences that seem to keep happening in my life over the past 4 months. They’ve added up, and all of a sudden I find myself with so many things to be thankful for that I have trouble knowing where to start. And that is no small thing.
The Penicillin was created in 2005 by Sam Ross, head bartender at Milk & Honey on Manhatten’s Lower East Side. The bar has since closed, but variations of his original cocktail can be found on drink menus all over the country. Ross went on to open Attaboy in Milk & Honey’s spot and is now recognized as one the major early influencers of the cocktail renaissance movement. The base spirit of The Penicillin is a blended Scotch, and the recipe calls for it to be combined with lemon juice, ginger, and a honey syrup. If things stopped right here we’d have a kind of whiskey sour without the egg white, made with Scotch instead of Bourbon and ginger instead of bitters. What really takes this cocktail to the next level is the addition of a smoky single malt Scotch that gets “floated” on top of the drink, rather than stirred in. For me this drink is all about sensation. The smokiness hits me first, both in aroma and taste, but just beneath it is the tang of the lemon, the sweetness of the honey syrup, and the bite of the ginger, all held together by the unmistakable, almost medicinal smoothness that comes from the blended Scotch. It’s amazing that a drink that contains so few ingredients can have such layered complexity. There’s something else here in this cocktail that I can only describe as soothing. I think it has to do with the lemon, honey, ginger combination that makes you feel as though it can truly heal whatever ache you may have. And that healing leads to positive energy, which attracts more of the same, and all at once you’re overflowing with gratitude!
The Penicillin from Sam Ross, Milk and Honey, NYC
2–3 pieces of fresh ginger, peeled
2 ounces blended Scotch*
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¾ ounce honey syrup (mix 3 parts honey to 1 part hot water)
¼ ounce smoky Scotch*
Candied ginger, for garnish
Muddle the ginger in the bottom half of a cocktail shaker. Add the next three ingredients and ice (2 small cubes and 1 large if you have them). Shake well, and strain into a rocks glass over ice (preferably, a single large cube). Slowly trickle in the smoky Scotch over the backside of a spoon held a few inches above the rim. This will float the smoky whisky on top of the drink; do not stir! Garnish with a piece of candied ginger speared on a cocktail pick.
Stop back tomorrow when we’ll be talking about Irish Whiskey!