Penicillin Cocktail

updated Jan 30, 2024

Honey-ginger syrup and smoky Islay scotch make this modern classic cocktail cozy, even over ice.

Makesmakes 1

Prep10 minutes

Cook5 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Although I love a hot toddy when it’s cold out, I personally prefer my cocktails chilled year-round. Enter: the Penicillin cocktail. Created in 2005 by bartender Sam Ross at Milk & Honey in New York, the cocktail’s name is a cheeky reference to the soothing, medicinal qualities of the standout ingredient — a ginger-infused honey syrup.

The drink is a riff on the classic whisky sour with honey, ginger, and a floater of smoky Islay scotch. This wintery cocktail has all the warmth you need (and none of the literal heat). While you can garnish with candied ginger, I like a simple piece of lemon peel instead. For some extra flair, peel an extra-long piece, roll it up, and skewer with a cocktail pick for a rose effect.

Key Ingredients in a Penicillin Cocktail

  • Honey ginger syrup. Honey simple syrup infused with fresh ginger is the signature ingredient.
  • Lemon. Fresh lemon juice lends a bright, tart flavor.
  • Blended Scotch whisky. No need to break the bank on a bottle; Famous Grouse, Monkey Shoulder, and Dewars are all good options in the $20 to $30 range.
  • Islay single malt Scotch. A little bit of the peaty Scotch added at the end gives so much smoky flavor. Don’t overdo it!
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Penicillin Cocktail Variations

Many bartenders have created their own spin on this modern classic. Once you master the original, try one of these riffs.

  • Skip the blended whisky and Islay Scotch, and use smoky mezcal instead.
  • Make it spritzy with a float of ginger beer or club soda.
  • Omit the Isay Scotch for a brighter, smoke-free flavor.
  • Combine the ingredients in a heatproof mug and add 1/2 cup hot water for a warm version.

What to Do with Leftover Honey Ginger Syrup

Leftover syrup will keep for several weeks. If you aren’t making more cocktails, there are plenty of ways to use it up. 

  • Use the infused syrup to sweeten a cup of herbal tea. 
  • Stir a few teaspoons into a lemon vinaigrette. 
  • Brush leftover honey ginger syrup over fresh cakes after they come out of the oven to keep them moist and add a little boost of flavor.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Penicillin Cocktail Recipe

Honey-ginger syrup and smoky Islay scotch make this modern classic cocktail cozy, even over ice.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 5 minutes

Makes makes 1

Nutritional Info


For the honey-ginger syrup:

  • 1

    (2-inch) piece ginger (at least 1-inch wide)

  • 1/2 cup


  • 1/2 cup


  • 1

    pinch kosher salt

For each cocktail:

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 2 ounces

    blended Scotch whisky

  • 3/4 ounce

    honey-ginger syrup

  • Ice

  • 1/4 ounce

    Islay single malt Scotch, such as Laphroaig


Make the honey-ginger syrup:

  1. Cut 1 (2-inch) piece ginger (at least 1-inch wide) lengthwise into 3 slices (no need to peel), and place in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup water, and 1 pinch kosher salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

  2. Transfer to a heatproof container and let cool until warm. Cover and refrigerate until cold, preferably overnight. Remove and discard the ginger before using.

Make the cocktail:

  1. Use a vegetable peeler to peel 1 long strip of peel from 1 medium lemon. Juice the lemon until you have 3/4 ounce, then add to a cocktail shaker. Add 2 ounces blended Scotch whisky and 3/4 ounce honey ginger syrup. Add enough ice to fill the shaker about half full. Seal the shaker and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosty, 30 seconds. (Alternatively, stir all the ingredients together in a mixing glass until very chilled, about 30 seconds.)

  2. Fill a rocks or old-fashioned glass with ice. Pour the cocktail through a strainer into the glass. Top with 1/4 ounce Islay single malt Scotch. Twist the lemon peel directly over the cocktail’s surface, then garnish with the peel.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The honey-ginger syrup can be made and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 week ahead.