Stop scotching “Scotch” off your list of go-to spirits. There’s one cocktail that might make you love it.
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Tequila leave you reeling in college? Gin on your “nuh-uh” list? Sometimes there’s one spirit you never drink, based on (usually negative) personal experience. For me, that spirit is Scotch; it calls to mind cigars and bogs, barnyards and peat—not the foxiest things. I’d never met a Scotch I liked as much as its siblings bourbon and rye, which I love. But it’d been a while—a long while—since I’d tried it, and I dare say this fabulous cocktail could make you like it, too.

The penicillin is the brainchild of New York City bartender Sam Ross (of Attaboy and Diamond Reef), who seems to have identified both how prickly Scotch haters are and how much Scotch fans adore the stuff. His concoction mingles ginger, lemon, honey, and Scotch—a blended one as well as a peaty Islay single malt. (Scotch runs the gamut flavor-wise, and many of the very peaty, barnyardy Scotches hail from the Islay region and have many fans.)

Scotch can have a smoky or a musky flavor, but this drink mutes those aspects and highlights its bouquet and silky texture. I’d found myself in possession of a fairly innocuous 12-year-old single malt, 12-year-old Deveron, which wasn’t overly peaty. I made a variation on the penicillin, shaking my Scotch with fresh lemon juice and the ginger-honey syrup this recipe suggested, garnishing a chilled Old Fashioned glass with candied ginger that cost three bucks at my local grocery store. I also dialed down the alcohol content: Some edits of this recipe call for a full three and a half ounces of liquor, but I was hosting a party, so I stuck with two ounces of my single malt. (I left out the splash of peaty Islay single malt the original calls for, but I imagine I’d like that, too, if I’d had some on hand.)

And it was magical. The smokiness is tempered by the sweet elements, and those familiar hot toddy ingredients—lemon, ginger, honey—soothe the throat in a way that was most welcome as I battled a cold. It’s a sweet, tart, smoky, golden-hued slow sipper, and I can’t recommend it enough as a drink to usher in spring or welcome autumn.

Penicillin Variation

Adapted from Sam Ross

For the Honey-Ginger Syrup (makes about 1 1/2 cups):

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 (6-inch) piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

For cocktail:

  • 2 oz Scotch (blended or single malt)
  • 3/4 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz Honey-Ginger Syrup (see below)
  • Garnish: Candied ginger

Make the honey-ginger syrup: Combine honey, ginger, and 1 cup water in a 2-qt. saucepan over high; boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes; chill overnight, then strain, discarding solids.

Make cocktail: Add all ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake until very cold, and strain into a rocks or Old Fashioned glass filled with one large ice cube. Garnish with candied ginger.

Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.