Penicillin Cocktail is a whiskey drink that is loaded with amazing flavors such as ginger, lemon and honey. It is sweet, it is fresh, it is spicy and it is simply DELICIOUS.
The Penicillin is perfect as a winter cocktail when you've got a sore throat, need a drink to warm you right up or my favorite - for St. Patrick's Day!
For St. Patrick's Day I often make an Irish coffee. It is a fabulous coffee drink, that I could drink all the time. However, sometimes I want it to be a little fresher. Like a classic Whiskey Sour, the Lucky Leprechaun or this Penicillin cocktail.
This is a cocktail for even the whiskey haters, I know a few I have converted just by this deliciously sweet and spicy drink.
Penicillin Cocktail History
The Penicillin was originally created by the New York bartender Sam Ross in 2005 and is usually made with whiskey, although I've seen it with both rum and tequila as well. It uses a mild whiskey as its base, along with ginger, honey and lemon. It is topped with a stronger woody whiskey, such as an Islay Malt.
However, I am one of those who only own one whiskey and do not run to the liquor store to buy things I'd rarely use. This means that this recipe only has one kind of whiskey, and you know what - I don't care, because this is a darn good cocktail that I'm sure you will like too!
I was introduced to this recipe through Cocktail Chemistry's version of the Penicillin. I have altered this recipe to be a little less alcoholic, which is just my preference. And it is sweet, spicy and just strong enough without overpowering the flavors from the honey and ginger.
Why is it called 'The Penicillin'?
It is called the Penicillin as a hint to the drug penicillin because of the medicinal properties of the ingredients in this drink. Just like a hot toddy, these ingredients are said to relieve symptoms of a cold or a flu.
Ginger is good for improving your immune system, it has antibacterial qualities, it can settle an upset stomach (although this green smoothie may be better for that than this cocktail!), and it can relieve pain and nausea.
Honey is also antibacterial, and research suggest that it is can be an effective cough suppressant. In addition, lemon juice is high in vitamin C which is also good for sore throats. That's why this sore throat tea is my preferred way of dealing with a - you guessed it - sore throat!
Whiskey can also be a great decongestant, alleviating cold symptoms. Alcohol will help you relax too, so in small amounts it can help you sleep (ever heard of a nightcap?).
Anyway, I'm not saying this is a health drink. Just explaining the origin of the name, and that I totally get the name! It is such a cozy drink that is so easy to like, no matter if you're healthy or feeling a cold sneaking up on you.
So the ingredients needed for this cocktail will sure make you feel like you're drinking a delicious sore throat remedy:
- Tons of fresh ginger - that spicy punch is incredible!
- Honey to sweeten the drink with a floral note
- Lemon juice to brighten it all up
- Sugar for the ginger syrup
- Fresh rosemary sprigs for that aromatic garnish, optional but looks fancy and it's so good as a cocktail garnish (I also use it for my apricot gin fizz!)
- Whiskey - there's no Penicillin without the whiskey, and trust me, the flavor pais beautifully with the other ingredients here. Scotch whiskey if you want to keep things traditional.
Variations or Twists
Okay, so this may be my verrrry favorite way of drinking this cocktail, but that does not mean there are many other mega delicious variations out there.
Make it vegan: By swapping the honey with maple syrup, it's vegan and still somewhat the same flavor profile! There's no need to dilute the maple syrup in water, as we do with the honey, because it is already pretty pourable and easy to blend with the other ingredients.
Make it skinny: Right, it has sugar both in the ginger syrup and in the honey. You can mix this drink with just ginger juice (make sure it is still freshly juiced) and as much honey as you like.
Keep in mind that the ginger syrup will have much shorter shelf life (or rather, fridge life), of roughly 3 days.
Make it floral: You know I love my floral drinks! Make this cocktail, but instead of this honey syrup, use my lavender syrup. It is fantastic in lemony cocktails like the lavender bee's knees.
Don't like whiskey?: Are you completely sure you don't like whiskey? Anyway, you can use gin or vodka too, but the flavor will not be quite the same - but still delicious!
How to Make Ginger Syrup
Because you need to make a ginger syrup, this recipe takes a little time the first time you make it. But because the ginger syrup is more than enough for one cocktail, you will always have the Penicillin right at your fingertips (or rather, in the fridge).
Remove the peel from the ginger. It's easiest to scrape using the back of a spoon. If you've got a juicer, this is the definite best way of juicing your ginger. You need less ginger to make the same amount of juice.
However, if you don't have a juicer, you can use a food processor and then a nut milk bag or a cheesecloth. Just squeeze the juice out of the pulp. A blender can work too, but you may or may not need to add just a little water to help things along. Run it through a nut milk bag.
Then combine the ginger juice with an equal amount of sugar. So ½ cup of ginger juice needs ½ cup of sugar. Shake to dissolve the sugar. Run it through a strainer if you want to make sure it is completely free of ginger lumps.
Pour into a jar with a tight lid.
This mixture holds in the fridge for at least 1 month. If you add a splash of vodka to the syrup it could maybe last longer, but I have not tried this.
What to Make with Ginger Syrup?
I thought to myself the first time I made this that: 'what am I going to doo with all this ginger syrup?' then I tasted it and I was like: 'oooh I could drink this all by itself it's so delicious'.
So yeah, you can pour this ginger syrup in literally anything that could fit with both ginger and sugar. I've made ginger ales, ginger tea, ginger water. I would love to try it in a cake! The sky is the limit.
How to Make Honey Syrup
Okay, so honey is a syrup already. But this honey syrup is a lot more pourable than regular honey. All you need to do is mix the honey with warm water until the honey dissolves.
Pour this into a jar with a tight lid and it will keep in the fridge, proobably forever, but it will obviously not last that long when you can make this delicious Penicillin drink with it.
Is Whiskey Gluten Free and Vegan?
Yes, Scotch whiskey is gluten free, although it's made from distilled wheat. However, some people with celiac disease still react to drinking whiskey. It is possible that the distillation process doesn't remove 100 % of the gluten.
My uneducated advice would be to try small amounts first, to see if you can handle it. If you don't, you could use a whiskey that is made from something similar to corn - the sorghum whiskeys. James F.C. Hyde Whiskey, New Southern Revival and SS Sorghum Whiskey are three versions you could try.
Read more about gluten free whiskey here.
Yes, whiskey is also vegan. Some whiskeys contain honey, but it will usually say so clearly on the label. All hard liquor is usually vegan! If you want to make this drink vegan, simply swap the honey syrup with maple syrup (no need to dilute with warm water). Read more about vegan alcohol here.
Just a list of equipment you may need to make cocktails in general. If you like to make cocktails, then most of these are things you should have anyway!
- Measurement jigger
- Rocks glasses (or do like me and go for the unconventional round ones and all the whiskey fanatics will screamm it's so outrageous)
- Citrus juice squeezer
- Strainer (if you don't want ice in your drink)
- Preferably a juicer,
- if not, use a food processor, + nut milk bag/cheesecloth
- Jar with a tight lid
I'm one of those that drink ginger, honey and lemon drinks all year around. They are fresh enough for summer, and soothing enough for winter. So I've also made a Ginger Lemon Iced Tea or the caffeine free Sore Throat Tea with Honey and Ginger, and if you like the Penicillin cocktail, I urge you to try those as well!
If you are a whiskey lover like me, I'd go and check out all these 11 refreshing whiskey cocktails. They are citrusy, herby, and some are of course infused with coffee. Or you're here for St. Patrick's Day, I think you would love a Lucky Leprechaun gin cocktail!
How to Make the Drink
Back to the Penicillin. When you've made your two syrups, most of the work is done. Combine ginger syrup, honey syrup, lemon juice and whiskey with a few ice cubes in a shaker. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds.
Strain into your favorite whiskey glass. I do this, and then I add extra ice cubes in the drink, but that's just me. So I am not one to judge on how you make your whiskey drinks! I also love to garnish with a rosemary sprig. It adds a nice, aromatic touch that goes wonderfully with ginger and whiskey.
Relax, and enjoy all this 'cures all' drink has to offer.
Did you like this recipe? Here are more fun cocktails for you:
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This recipe was originally published on March 12th 2019, but updated on March 26th 2022 for better photos and content.
In case you're wondering if you've been here before, here's a picture of the old version of the drink: