The weather has finally changed here in Arizona. My sweaters have come out and a blanket has gone on the bed. It is still sunny and gorgeous but the chill in the air at night makes me yearn for a warming, comforting beverage. In homage to the cooler weather and my craving for a winter warmer I have asked my eldest brother M. to do a guest blog on one of his favorite beverages. I could have just asked for the recipe but thought he should share his love of all things Single Malt Whisky. – C 

I started drinking single malt Scotch fulltime in 2008, when Big A. thought an upgrade to the premium version was warranted, a far more fitting drink for a newly minted postgraduate than Johnnie Black on the rocks.

Being a normative Australian sample, with a bit of Italian in the mix, we have an enduring, meaningful and enthusiastic relationship with alcohol in our family. Beer and wine have always been the staples, with spirits rarely getting a look-in, except for maybe a Benedictine or Drambuie with Dad on any a special occasion. I do remember Dad enjoying a Scotch and Dry in the ’80s, but that’s about it for hard liquor. My knowledge of whisky thus found its limit at Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker Black Label.

Big A. and I shared around a third of that bottle in our first sitting back in ’08. From that night, whisky became a topic of conversation and staple accessory in the pursuit of leisure superseded only by cycling. Taking on single malt fulltime meant a new level of commitment, a steep learning curve and an ignorant understanding spouse. It meant having less time to work on wine, but I manage to still put in the minimum required hours on beer. Whisky is distilled beer anyway, I figure. It’s sad, costly and makes everyone think I’m old, but I now have a shrine to single malt Scotch in the lounge to rival the top shelf of even the most discerning establishment.

Sometimes, though, it’s good to change it up, and in an effort to retain some thematic consistency, yet introduce more variety into my imbibition (that really is a word), I thought it would be worth trying some whisky-based cocktails. After 18 months of exhaustive, hands-on, international research, my clear favourite is the Penicillin. This is because:

a) It is the best,

and

b) There aren’t many good single malt cocktails, because mixing the highest form of whisky with vastly inferior liquids is generally considered by enthusiasts to be an offence worthy of castration by fire ant.

Invented by master mixologist Sam Ross, formerly of Melbourne and now wielding the ice pick in NYC, this drink is aptly named, particularly as Nobel Laureate Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin and its therapeutic benefits, was a Scotsman. Scroll down to the list of ingredients, and you’ll also notice this drink likely has similar antibacterial properties to its namesake. While maybe not quite deserving of a Nobel Prize for chemistry, at a minimum the combination of ginger, honey, lemon and whisky should earn Mr Ross automatic membership of Mensa.

There are a few places here in Melbourne that produce an excellent Penicillin, my favourite being Seamstress. However, shelling out $18 a glass started to irritate the hip-pocket nerve, the result being that my most deserving guests can now enjoy this mixed masterpiece in the salubrious surrounds of my home.

For those not living in a working cocktail bar, the Penicillin takes a bit of preparation, but this can be done ahead of time and then set aside, in sufficient quantities to make as many individual drinks as you like.

First is the ice. It’s best to ensure minimal dilution by using a single large piece of ice, preferably rounded, in the glass. I can’t be bothered explaining why rounded; I’m sure there’s a geometry blog somewhere detailing why rounded is better than cubed in terms of dilution due to a smaller surface area, but I also can’t be bothered finding or posting a link. If making rounded ice, you’ll need lots of practice, an ice pick, a steel mesh glove, Band-Aids, a tourniquet, and at least a pint of your own blood, or blood type, set aside. Ice should be between a golf ball and tennis ball in size (yes, that’s a big range – if anyone can think of something else round that is halfway between a golf ball and tennis ball in size I will happily edit the copy). Or you could just buy some ice sphere moulds – one of the commenters has kindly done the calculations.

The other prep step is making the ginger and honey syrup. Using 1/2 a cup of honey, 1/2 a cup of water, and 1 or 2 ounces of peeled, thinly sliced ginger, heat the entire mix in a saucepan over medium until just boiling, and then gently simmer. I taste throughout the process until I have the ginger really cutting through the sweetness of the honey. Strain and refrigerate for later.

NB: When a Penicillin is made properly in a cocktail bar, the syrup should comprise slightly diluted honey (3 parts honey, 1 part water) and fresh, sweetened ginger juice. I do it the other way because I don’t have a juicer.

Down to the drink itself. In a cocktail shaker, pour 2 ounces of a good quality blended whisky (I’m currently using Grant’s 12-year-old), 3/4 of an ounce of fresh lemon juice and 3/4 of an ounce of the honey/ginger syrup. Play around with the honey/ginger and lemon juice ratios to your taste – I find that I prefer slightly more of the honey/ginger and slightly less lemon juice, but generally stay pretty close to the recipe. Add several cubes of ice to the shaker, shake for a few seconds and then pour into a whisky tumbler containing your giant piece of ice. Rinse or wipe off any blood before putting the ice in the glass.

Next, add a collar of smoky Islay single malt scotch, around 1/3 of an ounce. At the moment I use either a Caol Ila 12 or Lagavulin 16 (or the Laphroaig Quarter Cask shown in the picture, if I have a particularly worthy visitor). Any Islay will generally do – while the peaty nose of whisky from this part of Scotland is not to everyone’s taste as a straight Scotch, it’s vital to this drink. (And the peat! Ahh, the peat…) Pour the Islay malt over the surface of the liquid so it floats on top. This gives an excellent smoky aroma that hits you as you raise the glass to your mouth. Garnish with a piece of crystallised or candied ginger and enjoy.

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Comments
  1. putneyfarm says:

    One of our favorite cocktails (one of the few, great scotch cocktails). Nice post!

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