If you ask even a casual cocktail drinker to name an iconic drink of recent vintage, chances are high they will name this creation by Sam Ross, who— alongside Audrey Saunders, Phil Ward, and Dick Bradsell—tops the list of prolific producers of modern classic cocktails. It was partly inspired by the Gold Rush, another honeyed Whiskey Sour spin also invented at Milk & Honey. The delivery of a shipment of products from Compass Box—an iconoclastic Scotland company that spends its time smashing various suppositions about how scotch should be made and used—led him to spin on the drink. Out went the bourbon, in went blended scotch; the bar’s house honey syrup and ginger juice were combined into one syrup; and the whole was topped with a float of smoky Islay scotch. A garnish of candied ginger added a bit of flourish. The name was just common sense. Everything about the recipe—whiskey, lemon, honey, ginger—evoked centuries-old home remedies.
The drink first caught fire at Little Branch, Milk & Honey’s sister bar in Greenwich Village. Then Ross brought it to the West Coast when he did some consultancy work in Los Angeles.
The Penicillin has shown great versatility over the years. There have been dozens of takes on the cocktail in bars around the world. Ross is not above stealing from himself. He served a frozen version at his Brooklyn bar Diamond Reef, called the Penichillin, and a hot version during the Covid-19 pandemic, when out-door dining was the only option at Attaboy.
Modern Classic Cocktails: 60+ Stories and Recipes from the New Golden Age in Drinks by Robert Simonson is available now.
- 2 ounces blended scotch
- ¾ lemon juice
- ¾ ounce ginger honey syrup, recipe follows
- ¼ ounce Islay single malt scotch, preferably Laphroaig 10-year
- candied ginger for garnish
- Combine the blended scotch, lemon juice, and syrup in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass filled with one large cube. Float the Islay scotch on the surface of the drink. Garnish with candied ginger.
Ginger Honey Syrup
- 1 cup honey
- 6- inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup water
- In a small pot, combine the honey, ginger, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Refrigerate overnight, then strain, discarding the solids.
Modern Classic Cocktails: 60+ Stories and Recipes from the New Golden Age in Drinks by Robert Simonson, copyright © 2022. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.”