The Penicillin: Designing a modern classic cocktail

Designed in 2005 by NYC bartender Sam Ross, the penicillin is a concoction of scotch whiskey, lemon juice, honey, ginger topped with an even smokier scotch whiskey. Its name, borrowed the first antibiotic, gives you a clue that this medicinal, aromatic drink feels like a cure-all going down. The drink’s simple, yet powerful flavor profile has won over the palates of bartenders and drinkers all over the world. The design story for this drink starts with Ross, working at Lower East Side bar Milk & Honey, “riffing” on one of their popular drinks, called the Gold Rush. This original drink featured bourbon whiskey, honey syrup, and lemon. At the time, the idea of substituting the more sweet and mellow bourbon for a smoky scotch was radical. Ross took this a step further by adding an even smokier scotch blend, called “Peat Monster,” over the top and adding a ginger syrup. At the time, Ross had no idea that he had created a new classic. It took Ross heading to L.A. in 2007 and training the staff for a new West Hollywood French restaurant for the drink to take off. Many of the bartenders Ross trained carried the drink to other bars throughout L.A., popularizing his creation. This drink, which started as a variation, has gone on to inspire hundreds, if not thousands, of its own variations. My emotional connection to the penicillin comes out of how the drink makes me feel: warm and comforted. There’s something about the smokiness of scotch in a cocktail that carries so much attitude. This is a bold drink that forces you to hold competing dominant flavors at once. Seeing a penicillin on a bar menu also tells me something about where I’m at. There’s a respect for the craft – it’s history and modernity – that I admire about any place that knows how to cobble together this perfect cure-all. Sources: 1. https://www.saveur.com/making-modern-classic-cocktail

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