Scientists of the World ought to spend a moment on 11 March to reflect on how far the world has been driven on the spark of ignition provided by Sir Alexander Fleming on 28 September 1928. It was on that day that one of Scotland’s greatest sons discovered penicillin – the world’s first antibiotic. Fleming died on 11 March 1955, 63 years ago today.
Fleming was a famous mucky pup. His lab in St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington was a disaster area, with bits of crap lying all over the place. In September 1928, he went on holiday, but instead of clearing up properly, Fleming lazily stacked all his Staphylococcus cultures in a corner and left them to rot.
When he returned, and decided to do something about the state of the lab, he noticed that the Staph cultures had overgrown. However, one of the cultures had suffered from Fleming’s poor workplace hygiene, and had predictably become contaminated with a fungus. Fleming examined this culture and noted that the staphylococci had regressed in the area around the fungus. Fleming remarked:
Fleming deduced that the fungal contaminant contained some kind of antibacterial element. Eventually, the fungus was identified as a Penicillin, and the rest is history. Years later, Fleming remarked,
When I woke up just after dawn on 28 September 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer, … But I guess that was exactly what I did.
Similarly, when The Nosey Chef woke up on the morning of 11 March 2018, he didn’t think he would be making a cocktail, but then he read his diary, found out that it was the anniversary of Fleming’s death, then make a cocktail was exactly what he did. Having made and tasted the drink described here, I think this would be liked very well by almost everyone – including those who profess to not like whisky.
The Penicillin cocktail was invented in 2005 by Sam Ross at Milk & Honey in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. Ross was messing about with honey, ginger and smoky Scottish island whiskies, and came up with the Penicillin, naming it for its potency. Whether Ross realised that the inventor of his cocktail’s medicinal namesake was also Scottish is not recorded. Ross slept on the idea and kept the recipe in the back of his mind for a while.
Nine months later, barmaid Lucy Sterling came up to the Milk & Honey bar with an order for ‘barman’s choice,’ i.e., ‘make me anything.’ She suggested Ross make a round of Penicillins. Ross complied and the guests were delighted. Now convinced of the merit of his creation, Ross travelled to LA, and seeded the drink in bars all over the city. Soon, the Penicillin was as well known as the Cosmopolitan, and it was possible to obtain one in bars that did not actually have it on the menu. This is because any properly schooled barman worth his salt knew how to make them. By 2014 some young barmen were starting to believe that the Penicillin was a classic cocktail from the beginning of time. And rightly so – it is simple to make, contains classic elements of booze, zest and sugar; and combines honey with whisky and lemon, which is pretty much what is in a Hot Toddy.
The recipe given here is the original Sam Ross recipe from Milk & Honey NY. Unfortunately, the bar closed in 2014, and the owners started looking for a new site near the Flatiron Building. The search continues. The London bar is still open at 61 Poland Street, Soho, London W1F 7NU. The Penicillin is on the menu, and will cost you £10. Sam Ross is now at Attaboy on the former site of Milk & Honey at 134 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002, and he will probably mix you a Penicillin if you ask him nicely. Fleming’s lab at St. Mary’s has been preserved as a museum. You can find that at Praed St, Paddington, London W2 1NY. I have no idea if they have tidied it up.
- 45ml single malt Islay whisky
- 30ml good quality blended scotch whisky (e.g. Johnnie Walker Black Label)
- 22ml honey ginger syrup (see this site for a recipe)
- 22ml lemon juice
- 1 piece of candied ginger
Shake liquid the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, and strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass.
Garnish with the candied ginger.
The version of this cocktail published in Difford's Guide deletes the syrup, and adds honey water and King's Ginger Liqueur. As the honey ginger syrup is so easy to make, it makes sense to return to the original. Making candied ginger is as easy as simmering a peeled cube of fresh ginger in simple syrup until soft (about 40 mins), and then rolling it in granulated sugar.