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A Tale of Two Cocktails

(Left) The Penicillin and (Right) The Vaccine

When I first started bartending, I learned that late nights were just part of the job. Of course, this didn’t stop me from plopping myself down at the other end of the bar every weekend to enjoy a cocktail or two. I quickly found myself ordering one cocktail over and over, for some reason this spicy, smoky cocktail just sounded good after a week of deep cleaning,  washing dishes, and wiping down the bar top. The drink I ordered is called the Penicillin, and it’s about as wondrous as the antibiotic it was named after.

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This scotch-based cocktail delivers a bright, powerful punch that cleanses your soul as well as your palette. The drink was invented in New York (of course) by Sam Ross during his tenure at the cocktail bar Milk & Honey. He based this masterpiece on a Gold Rush Era recipe using whiskey, honey, and lemon, but he decided to mix things by adding scotch and ginger to the mix. Scotch on its own is a powerful flavor, and ginger is certainly nothing to be trifled with. However, thanks to Sam Ross’s tireless efforts to marry the two opposing flavors, the world was given its first dose of Penicillin, well of the cocktail the Penicillin.

What makes The Penicillin special to me isn’t that it’s a balanced, boozy cocktail you can enjoy over and over. Rather it’s one of the first cocktails that took something I didn’t necessarily enjoy, such as a smokey Islay scotch, and elevated it into a beverage that I could repeatedly enjoy. As a result of those penicillin shots, I’m now quite fond of even the peaty-iest, smokiest scotches on any cocktail menu. So I encourage almost everyone out there to give this cocktail a taste, it’s worth every effort. 

The Vaccine is my variation from The Penicillin. By bringing in the sweetness of agave and the complex tartness of grapefruit, The Vaccine is a bright, sweet cocktail with just enough smoke to remind you you’re drinking scotch. Much like a real vaccine, it introduces just a little bit of scotch to your system without overwhelming your taste buds, so pretty soon you’ll be able to knock back even the most powerful single malt scotch with a smile. Both cocktails are great party starters and they are distinct enough to serve together or separately.

The Penicillin & The Vaccine

Prep Time: 5 min

Makes: 4 servings

THE PENICILLIN

  • .5 OZ. HONEY (OR .75 OZ OF HONEY & GINGER SYRUP)
  • .5 INCH FRESH GINGER ROOT (OMIT IF USING ABOVE SYRUP)
  • .75 OZ. LEMON JUICE
  • 2 OZ. SCOTCH (BLENDED OR ISLAY IF YOU WANT IT SMOKIER)
  • .25 OZ OF ISLAY SCOTCH (LIKE LAPHROAIG)
  • Garnish: Lemon Peel

THE VACCINE

  • .5 OZ HONEY (OR .75 OF HONEY & GINGER SYRUP)
  • .5 INCH FRESH GINGER ROOT (OMIT IT USING ABOVE SYRUP)
  • .5 OZ BLUE AGAVE SYRUP
  • 1 OZ GRAPEFRUIT JUICE
  • 2 OZ. SCOTCH (BLENDED OR ISLAY)
  • .25 OZ ISLAY SCOTCH (LIKE LAPHROAIG)
  • GARNISH: GRAPEFRUIT SEGMENT

Directions

The Penicillin

The Penicillin with a powerful mustache

Directions

The Vaccine

The Vaccine chilled to perfection.

Notes

  • To me, these are two of the only cocktails out there that it’s worth it to make a syrup for. Maybe that’s because I find myself craving two or three of these every time I make one, or maybe it’s because I love the smell of honey and ginger filling my house. Either way, making the syrup will improve the overall mixing of these cocktails, and it will make it easier to make over and over. The recipe is relatively simple:

Honey and Ginger Syrup

  • Boil ½ cup of water for five minutes with ½ cup of honey and 3 inches of peeled, chopped ginger root. Strain out the ginger and refrigerate. This can be in place of the honey and fresh ginger in the recipe above and should make roughly 6 drinks worth of syrup.
  • How to make a mustache garnish: Most people forget that they can fold their citrus peels to make a symmetrical cut, but once you figure that out it’s as simple as using a sharp knife and cutting carefully.

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