Justin Drinks: Penicillin Cocktail

Let me get this drink off my chest.

I love the simple ceremony of sitting at your favorite bar after a long day, drinking patient, precious cocktails that were crafted by highly attuned barmen (or women). For myself, an ideal drinking experience is letting go, avoiding the nearest cocktail menu, and relinquishing your fate to talented soldiers behind the bar.

The Penicillin Cocktail
The Varnish Bar, Los Angeles. May 2013.

If you were to ask me what’s my all-time favorite cocktail characteristic, I’d say fresh citrus without flinching. I love nothing more than acerbic, bright bites of fresh lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, you name it. Even with food, sparks of citrus often improve the experience.

I also love a smoky spirit. Mescal has always been a friend, I’ve always held loyalty to the varying spice of rye whiskey, and of course: the campfire magic of a single malt Scotch.

A perfect cocktail is a quilt of otherwise disparate flavors, sewn together to create something worth enjoying until the last drop. For me, when you go down this road, a “perfect cocktail” is the Penicillin – first exposed to a few years ago at a capable spot, while avoiding the cocktail menu, after a very long day.

There is a reason fresh lemon and a degree of whiskey (in the Penicillin’s case, a blended Scotch whisky) are familiar bedfellows. However, expand that pair, building with the fresh spice of raw ginger, the nutty sweetness of honey and a float of an Islay single malt Scotch, and the Penicillin’s winning formula moves front and center.

The Penicillin Cocktail – NYC Milk & Honey mixologist Sam Ross’ original recipe:

  • 2 ounces blended Scotch
  • 1⁄4 ounces Islay single malt Scotch
  • 3⁄4 ounces honey syrup (water-diluted honey)
  • 1⁄8 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 3⁄8 oz. fresh ginger juice

A beautiful alternative is the Dutch Penicillin, most recently enjoyed by one of Arizona’s bucket-list bartenders and cocktail consultants, notable gentleman Travis Nass at The Last Drop Bar in Paradise Valley, Ariz., where the blended Scotch is swapped with Bols Genever, a still-smoky but quick-finishing Dutch style gin.

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