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The Penicillin cocktail is a modern classic! Featuring Scotch with the flavors of honey, lemon and ginger, it’s got a unique, high-end vibe.

Penicillin Cocktail
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Are you a Scotch lover? Here’s the mixed drink for you: the Penicillin cocktail! This modern classic cocktail highlights the peaty flavor beautifully. Combining Scotch with lemon, honey and ginger makes for a sort of high-class version of the Whiskey Sour. While it pleases even non-Scotch fans (me), you’ll need two bottles of Scotch…making it a drink for die hards. Ready to get mixing?

Not a Scotch lover? Make the Gold Rush instead.

What’s in a Penicillin cocktail?

While it might sound like a hundred year old classic, this drink is anything but! The Penicillin cocktail was invented in 2005 by bartender Sam Ross at the famous Milk & Honey bar in New York City. It’s essentially a whiskey sour made with Scotch and a ginger honey syrup. The name of the drink suggests it’s a cure-all, playing off the ingredients that are common in herbal remedies (lemon, ginger and honey).

Ross took elements of the Gold Rush, another famous cocktail invented at the same bar, but swapped Scotch for bourbon and added ginger. As the final touch, he floated a single malt Scotch layer on top to add a peaty whiff to the front of each sip. It’s a strong flavor, but it’s uniquely intriguing. The ingredients in the Penicillin cocktail are:

  • Blended Scotch
  • Single malt Scotch
  • Lemon
  • Honey syrup
  • Lemon juice
Penicillin Cocktail

A little twist: muddled ginger + honey syrup

The typical Penicillin cocktail uses a honey ginger syrup to sweeten the drink (instead of the often used simple syrup). This is a special honey syrup that’s infused with ginger. Because we already had honey syrup on hand, here’s what we did to simplify this cocktail:

  • Honey syrup is an ingredient in other famous cocktails, like the Gold Rush, Brown Derby and Bees Knees.
  • This cocktail uses honey syrup and muddled ginger, instead of making a special honey ginger syrup. This way, you can use the batch of honey syrup to make other cocktails!
Honey syrup

How to make honey syrup

Honey syrup is simple syrup made with honey instead of granulated sugar. It’s seriously easy to whip up a batch: and it adds a rich depth to cocktails of any kind. Here’s what to do:

  1. Add equal parts honey and water to saucepan and heat over medium heat.
  2. Stir until the honey is dissolved (don’t bring to simmer!), about 1 to 2 minutes. Cool to room temperature before using. Keeps in the refrigerator for 1 month.

Two types of Scotch: blended and peated single malt

You’ll need two types of Scotch to make a Penicillin cocktail. They’re a bit of an investment, so if you’re not a Scotch lover, here’s your out! Go make the Gold Rush instead: it uses bourbon and has similar flavors.) Here are the two types of Scotch you need:

  • Blended Scotch: Blended Scotch has a smooth flavor: almost like bourbon, but with more of a spicy finish. As its name suggests, it’s made by blending two types of whisky: barrel-aged malt whisky and grain whisky.
  • Peated Single Malt Scotch: Single malt Scotch is a malt whisky that’s from one distillery. Peated whisky is made by burning peat moss for drying out the malted barley, the traditional way to make Scotch in Scotland. It adds a grassy, mossy flavor to the alcohol.

Editorial comment: I’m personally not much of a Scotch drinker, unlike my better half (Alex). I can’t drink Scotch neat, and certainly not grassy smokiness of peated Scotch. But the Penicillin had enough sweet and citrus to balance it out the flavors. It’s not my favorite cocktail, but I enjoyed drinking it and it’s certainly unique. For a Scotch lover like Alex, it was right up his alley.

How to make a Penicillin cocktail

Once you’ve made the honey syrup and gathered up your Scotch, the rest of the Penicillin cocktail is a breeze! All you’ll need is a cocktail shaker: no other fancy tools required! Here are the basic steps (or jump right to the recipe):

  • Muddle: Muddle the ginger root in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.
  • Shake: Add the rest of the ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and then shake until very cold. Don’t have a cocktail shaker? Use a mason jar with a cover instead.
  • Strain: Strain the drink into a lowball glass. Don’t have a cocktail strainer? Use a fine mesh strainer instead.
  • Garnish: Add ice and a lemon wedge or candied ginger.
Penicillin cocktail

Step it up: add clear ice!

The Penicillin is best with a large ice cube that fills the entire glass. How to find that? Make clear ice! Clear ice is crystal clear ice that doesn’t have the cloudiness that normal ice has. You can also cut it into beautiful shapes that look like they’re straight out of a trendy bar. It’s easy to make: all you need is 24 hours and a small cooler. Here’s How to Make Clear Ice.

When to serve a Penicillin cocktail

The Penicillin cocktail is a cocktail for Scotch lovers only! Serve it to impress as a:

  • Happy hour drink
  • Late night drinks drink
  • Guys or girls night drink
  • Cocktail hour drink
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Penicillin Cocktail

Penicillin Cocktail

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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x


The Penicillin cocktail is a modern classic! Featuring Scotch with the flavors of honey, lemon and ginger, it’s got a unique, high-end vibe.


  • 4 thin slices of ginger, peeled and about 3/4 inch round
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) blended scotch
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce (1 ½ tablespoons) honey syrup
  • ½ ounce (1 tablespoon) single malt scotch
  • Ice, for serving (use clear ice!)
  • Garnish: candied ginger or ginger root, lemon peel


  1. In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle (gently mash) the ginger with a muddler or wooden spoon until it is mashed and juices are released, about 15 seconds.
  2. To the cocktail shaker, add the blended scotch, lemon juice and honey syrup with a handful of ice. Shake until cold.
  3. Strain the drink into a lowball glass with one large ice cube.
  4. Carefully pour the single malt scotch over the back of a spoon just above the surface of the drink, creating a layer on top. Garnish with candied ginger, ginger root or lemon peel and serve.
  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Shaken
  • Cuisine: Cocktails
  • Diet: Vegetarian

More Scotch cocktails

Love your Scotch? Here are a few of the best Scotch cocktails to try:

  • Godfather The Godfather pairs Scotch with amaretto: a great intro-to-Scotch drink!
  • Rob Roy A Manhattan made with Scotch! This booze-forward cocktail is a sophisticated way to enjoy a good Scotch.
  • Scotch Sour A whiskey sour with blended Scotch, it tastes sweet tart and peaty on the finish.
  • Blood and Sand A unique classic cocktail made with Scotch! Full of complex flavor, it features blood orange juice and cherry liqueur.
  • Rusty Nail A Scotch and Drambuie cocktail that’s got the 1960’s written all over it! We put a little shine on this classic slow sipper.

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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