Penicillin Cocktail Recipe

By Timo Torner / Last updated on September 15, 2023

The Penicillin is a crazy good whisky cocktail based on Scotch and mixed with honey, ginger, and fresh lemon juice.
Penicillin cocktail with garnish

The Penicillin Cocktail is one of the few popular Scotch drinks on bar menus. The reason for the limited number is as simple as it is obvious. Scotch is a fantastic spirit to drink neat, but in a cocktail, the smokiness of the whisky can turn out to be quite a challenge.

Quick Facts Penicillin Cocktail

  • Method: shaken
  • Flavor profile: smoky, boozy, slightly sweet & sour
  • How to serve it: over ice
  • Best glassware: old fashioned glass
  • Alcohol content: ~ 20% ABV, 21.5 grams of alcohol per serving

This modern classic is one bold drink. The Penicillin Cocktail mixes the smoky notes of Scotch, spice from the ginger, and sweetness from honey and marries these flavors with lemon juice.

Penicillin cocktail with garnish

Recipe Penicillin Cocktail

A delicious Scotch cocktail made with honey-ginger syrup.
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 3 minutes
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: American
Keyword: ginger, honey, scotch, whiskey
Servings: 1
Calories: 236kcal
Cost: $3.40


  • 2 oz Blended Scotch - (Dewar's 12 years or Famous Grouse)
  • 0.75 oz Lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz Honey-ginger syrup
  • 0.25 oz Islay Scotch - (Lagavulin 16 years or Laphroaig 10 years)
  • Candied ginger for garnish


  • Add blended Scotch, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and the honey syrup into a cocktail shaker with ice.
    2 oz Blended Scotch, 0.75 oz Lemon juice, 0.75 oz Honey-ginger syrup
  • Shake until well-chilled and strain over fresh ice into an Old Fashioned glass.
  • Float with Islay Scotch and optionally garnish the drink with candied ginger.
    0.25 oz Islay Scotch, Candied ginger for garnish


Serving: 4ozCalories: 236kcalCarbohydrates: 6.98gFat: 0.05gSodium: 0.25mgPotassium: 26.5mgSugar: 6.8gVitamin C: 10.25mgCalcium: 1.5mgIron: 0.03mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

What Scotch for a Penicillin Cocktail?

The Penicillin drink is actually made with two different types of Scotch. The first is a blended Scotch mixed with the other ingredients and strained into a cocktail glass. A float of Islay Scotch completes the drink.

If you're looking for a recommendation, we have you covered:

For the blended Scotch, we like Dewar's 12-year-old blended Scotch. If this is over budget, go for Famous Grouse. That is an established and reasonably priced alternative.

The float of heavily peated Scotch is the key to nailing this drink. If you get this one right, it lifts the cocktail to another level. A smoky Islay will fit nicely. 

Now, if you want something really exclusive, a float of Lagavulin 16 years makes this drink extra delicious. I know it's not for the faint-hearted, but it packs some nice smoky notes. Another more affordable recommendation would be Laphroaig 10 years.

We promise the cocktail tastes incredible! The peaty, earthy flavors of the Scotch marry amazingly well with the honey-ginger syrup - ideally homemade.

Making Honey-Ginger Syrup for the Penicillin

It is easy to make your honey-ginger syrup - even if you're new to making honey syrup or even regular simple syrup at home. All you need is a little time, as you may want to let the ginger steep overnight. But let's look at the ingredients first:


  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup water
  • 6-inch piece of ginger peeled & thinly sliced

How to make it:

  • Add all ingredients into a small saucepan over high heat.
  • Bring the mix to a boil, then reduce heat immediately and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes.
  • Let the syrup cool down. Once it reaches room temperature, put it in the fridge and let the ginger steep overnight.
  • Fine-strain the syrup and bottle it. You can keep it for up to 4 weeks.
Penicillin cocktail

Best Practise for Mixing

When making the Penicillin Cocktail the way you will get it at your favorite bar, follow these tips:

  • Shake your drink for about 8 to 10 Seconds with plenty of ice cubes to chill all ingredients and get the amount of dilution from the ice just right.
  • Use fresh, large, and ideally clear ice cubes when pouring the cocktail.
  • Pour the peated Scotch float carefully on top - consider using the back of a bar spoon to help create a nice float.
  • Use fresh lemon juice from ripe fruit only.

History of the Penicillin Cocktail

The classy list of ingredients of the Penicillin sounds like the drink potentially could be way older than it is. Yet, the cocktail is rather new: Sam Ross invented it in the 2000s while working at New York's popular drinking den Milk & Honey in Eldridge Street- meanwhile renamed to Attaboy.

That is also the place famous for inventing the Gold Rush cocktail - a drink made of Bourbon, lemon juice, and honey. So, it is pretty safe to say Ross got inspired by that recipe.

He replaced Bourbon with Scotch and spiced up the recipe with ginger. To optimize that further, he created a beautifully balanced honey-ginger syrup, the recipe for which you can find above.

Related Cocktail Recipes

Apart from this recipe, the Rusty Nail and the Blood & Sand are two Scotch Cocktails that you can find on many bar menus.

Other than that, there is only a small number of Scotch drinks and some riffs on other classics - if you want some inspiration, here's our list of the best Scotch Cocktails.

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