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The Penicillin Cocktail: A cure for whatever ails you.

The Penicillin Cocktail: A cure for whatever ails you.

penicillen1So 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!

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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.

*For the blended Scotch I went with Dewar’s White Label, and for the single malt I used the 10-year-old Laphroaig.

Stop back tomorrow when we’ll be talking about Irish Whiskey!

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Scotch Whisky: Unraveling the mystery…

Scotch Whisky: Unraveling the mystery…

bloodandsand2If Bourbon and Rye are like the captains of the sports teams who are outgoing all-stars seemingly destined to go on to be something big, then Scotch Whisky is the brooding intellectual you’re secretly dying to get to know. Deep and mysterious, and then there’s that accent… But much like that same intellectual, Scotch is often a bit of a loner and can be somewhat difficult to get to know. It can be tricky to use in cocktails and because it has so many different flavor profiles, the task of learning about it can seem truly daunting. I’m going to provide a basic introduction today, but the best way to learn is by tasting; that’s the only way to figure out which flavor profile you’re going to prefer. So drink up!

There are 3 different categories of Scotch whisky: blended malt, blended whisky, and single malt. A blended malt is made from whiskies from more than one distillery that are all made from barley, and a blended whisky is made with a single malt that is combined with whiskies made from other grains. In order for a Scotch to be considered a single malt, it must meet the following criteria:

  • It must be made from 100% malted barley and be produced at a single distillery.
  • It must be distilled using a pot still, a very old method of distillation that has remained unchanged for many years.
  • Only 2 ingredients are allowed to be added in. One is water and the other is E150A caramel coloring which must be disclosed on the label.
  • It must be aged for at least 3 years in oak casks that are no bigger than 180 US gallons.

The process of making Scotch whiskey begins with malting the barley by adding water to the grain and soaking it for 2-3 days. This causes the grain to germinate and release enzymes. This germination is then stopped by heating the wet grains. At this point, peat smoke is either allowed into the kiln or the grains are dried over a peat heated fire. The amount of smoke varies, and sometimes there is none at all with some of the lighter and more delicate varieties, but this step of the process is what gives most Scotch whiskey the smoky aroma and flavor for which it is known. The grain mash is then fermented and distilled, after which the whisky is placed into oak barrels to be aged for at least 3 years, but most are aged for much longer than that. The barrels are reused and may have contained American whiskey, Sherry, Port wine, Madeira, rum, or Cognac, each of which infuses the whisky with different flavors and changes its body and color.

There is an incredible amount of detail in the breakdown of the different flavor profiles of Scotch. I’m going to keep it very simple and stick with just 4 categories and make some recommendations for each:

For blended Scotch whisky, Famous Grouse and Dewar’s are excellent choices.

For today’s cocktail recipe, I’ve chosen to go with a classic called Blood and Sand, often the bartender’s recommendation for non-Scotch drinkers who want to give Scotch a try. The original recipe (which called for equal amounts of everything and no lemon juice) first appeared in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book and was named after Rudolph Valentino’s 1922 movie about bullfighting. I chose to go with the Death & Co recipe because I thought the original was just a bit too sweet. The original also uses a blended Scotch, but you can substitute a single malt if you’d like. I tried it with both ways and ended up preferring the single malt version more. I used the Balvenie DoubleWood 12 year old. Finally, you have some options with your sweet vermouth here too. You can use Martini & Rossi which is the lightest option, Carpano Antica which is heavier and a bit more bitter, or Punt E Mes (my personal favorite) which is the richest and most bitter of the 3. Feel free to experiment!

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Blood and Sand

1 oz Scotch Whisky, blended or Single Malt
1/2 oz Cherry Heering
1/2 oz Punt E Mes sweet vermouth
3/4 oz orange juice
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Brandied cherry for garnish

Place all the ingredients in the bottom half of a shaker and then add your 1 large cube and 2 small. Shake for 15—20 seconds or until cold. If you don’t have any large format cubes on hand, then fill the shaker 2/3 full with regular ice. Double strain using a Hawthorne and a mesh strainer and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the cherry on a cocktail pick. Enjoy!

Check back tomorrow for the Penicillin, a modern cocktail made with both blended Scotch and single malt!

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