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Drink Em if Ya Got Em: Penicillin and Other Smoky Cocktails

March 19, 2010
Penicillin, with blended and single malt Scotch, lemon and honey is good medicine.

Penicillin, with blended and single malt Scotch, lemon and honey is good medicine.

“I don’t like smoky Scotch.”

That was me, about 10 minutes after I found my way into the new San Diego speakeasy Noble Experiment and was escorted to my spot at the bar. For a moment, I was one of those annoying patrons who arrives at the bar thinking they know exactly what the do and don’t like.

But even though I wasn’t a Scotch drinker, something drew me to the cocktail called Penicillin, a combination of ginger-honey syrup, lemon and both blended and single malt Scotch. Fortunately, Anthony had dealt with people of my ilk before. He promised that if I didn’t like the Penicillin – one of the cocktails star-tender Sam Ross of Milk & Honey in NYC created for Noble Experiment – he’d make me something else.

It was like taking a refreshing and slightly sweet sip of autumn, on a cool day. It reminded me of burning leaves or sitting in front of a wood-burning fire. Besides adding another dimension of flavor to sweet, sour, salty and bitter, a smoky cocktail instantly creates atmosphere. It stirs up recollections of summer barbecues, smoky rooms, beach bonfires.

Now I’m to reconsidering my thoughts on single-malt Scotch and other smoky spirits. So the next week on a visit to Cantina in San Francisco, I didn’t pause before ordering the Old Gringo, an evocatively named mix of Del Maguey Mezcal, Pimm’s, vermouth and a float of cava, the Spanish sparkling wine. Duggan McConnel shares his curiously creative Old Gringo recipe on the Del Maguey web site.

The Old Gringo at Cantina employs a curious blend of mezcal, Pimm's and sparkling wine.

The Old Gringo at Cantina employs a curious blend of mezcal, Pimm's and sparkling wine.

If these smoky cocktails make your mouth water, there are plenty of places to try one. Jonny Raglin of Dosa Fillmore in San Francisco is shaking things up with his Smoked Cup (Benesin organic Mezcal and smoked sea salt) while Julian Cox of Rivera in LA does a trippy cocktail called with Del Maguey mezcal, citrus and chapulin aka cricket salt. Watch Cox make the Donaji and get the recipe in a great LA cocktail piece on the LA Times web site. Sounds odd, but then again, I just might like it.

Penicillin
2 ounces blended Scotch
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce honey ginger syrup
1/4 ounce single-malt Islay Scotch
candied ginger, for garnish

Add the blended Scotch, lemon juice and honey-ginger syrup to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled. Serve in a rocks glass with one large cube of ice. Mist or drizzle on the Islay Scotch. Garnish with the ginger.
By Sam Ross of Milk & Honey and Little Branch in NYC

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