What do you get when a head cold and a hangover collide?
A late post from Shake, Stir, Muddle.
Yes, dear Muddlers, it was a tough time last weekend. As promised, I marked World Cocktail Day on Friday 13 May by One-for-the-Road Testing the Bronx Cocktail and will review it here soon.
Spoiler Alert: It was really good. Too good.
But this week we need to talk about Whisky-without-an-e because Saturday May 21 is World Whisky Day and it behoves us to treat this day with the reverence it deserves.
No rest for we Muddlers.
Because it is also Sydney Writers Festival this week, I was keen to tie in a whisky cocktail with a writing theme. Problem is, there are many more cocktails for whiskey-with-an-e than there are for Whisky and many more writers who favoured a whiskey cocktail than a whisky cocktail.
So I lay in my sick bed, thinking about cocktails and writers but really just craving a hot lemon and ginger drink and wanting some medical angel to swoop in with magic to fix my cold.
With thanks to Alexander Fleming and Australian Howard Florey, Penicillin is estimated to have saved 80 million lives. Good work gents.
Here’s the recipe if you want to whip some up.
Now as anyone with half a brain knows, Penicillin is of no use in curing a cold and the world would be a better place if people would stop requesting antibiotics for head colds. It is also of absolutely no use in dealing with a hangover.
Both afflictions require a treatment for the symptoms and will pass in their own sweet time. Both also call for the patient to drink lots of water.
Work with me here.
See, whisky comes from the Gaelic “uisge beathe” or Water of Life.
And Fleming was a Scotsman (from Ayrshire, a Lowlands region that produces fine whisky and Hendrick’s gin) and Florey was from Adelaide (pictured here on a Friday night), so clearly a fan of strong alcohol.
Surely then there is a link to be found with World Whisky Day?
Enter Penicillin, the cocktail.
Penicillin ticks boxes, many boxes (as long as you consider three to be many).
Whisky cocktail suitable for profiling for World Whisky Day? Check.
Lemon and ginger for addressing cold symptoms? Check.
Invented by an Australian to allow for parochialism? Check.
Yes, Melbourne bartender Sam Ross moved to New York and invented the Penicillin cocktail. A gentle blend of blended scotch whisky, an Islay single malt, ginger, honey, lemon and water.
There’s a range of recipes available, this one requires starting the day before to make a honey-ginger syrup which you refrigerate overnight (hassle), this one of which suggests you can use a premade ginger, honey and lemon cordial (I haven’t tried this but have an in-principle objection to it) and one that meets in the middle and involves – for the first time in Shake, Stir, Muddle’s history – the use of the muddler!
Here’s how I think you should make it:
Take a 2 or 3 of slices of fresh ginger and muddle (mash) them in the bottom of your cocktail mixer. Or you can grate a knob of ginger straight in.
Mix equal parts honey and hot water and mix, allow to cool before adding 45mL of mix to muddled ginger.
Pour in 60 mL of blended Scotch whisky (Dewar’s or The Famous Grouse are recommended)
Add 45 mL of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Shake with ice until cold (about 30 seconds).
Strain into ice-filled Old Fashioned glass and pour 15mL of Islay scotch (Laphroaig works well) gently over the back of a spoon onto the top of the mixture.
A few cheats here to help you sound knowledgeable.
Islay (pronounced eye-la) is a small island off the west coast of Scotland with a very high concentration of distilleries. It is called the Queen of the Hebrides and has large areas of peat bog which winter gales keep saturated with sea spray.
Not great images for the local tourism marketing body to work with, but these elements combine to give Islay whiskies a distinctive smoky, peaty flavour (except Bunnahabdain, which is surprisingly smoke-free in its flavour, making it a great place to start if you’re new to Islay whisky).
Some find the peaty flavour medicinal. It was this flavour trait that allowed Laphroaig (pronounced la-frayg, don’t be distracted by the O) distillers to get around the Prohibition bans in the USA by selling it for medicinal purposes. Canny.
You don’t just mix your Laphroaig into the Penicillin, the idea is to get the strong smoky taste up front. Patience is required, but no great skill. Anyone with a reasonably steady hand can do it.
Or, do as Don Draper bid us do and co-opt a passing child in the exercise. At very least it will be educational, but the involvement in the delivery of a cure could see that child inspired to enter one of the caring professions.
Which we need.
The Penicillin is a variant on the Whiskey Sour, which is whiskey (usually Bourbon), lemon juice and sugar or sugar syrup (sugar and water solution), a recipe that first appeared in print back in 1862 but probably had its origins earlier when sea-farers were worried about scurvy and drinking dodgy water so combined their lemon ration with rum, creating the sour cocktail. That’s ingenuity.
So it’s historical then too. Let’s add that to the list of reasons why we should have a Penicillin cocktail as the weather gets colder.
And finally – as if you need another reason – the Whiskey Sour, the Mother of the Penicillin, was one of my favourite writers, Dorothy Parker’s drink of choice.
So let’s remember her words as we find our wits returning with every fortifying swig of Penicillin.
“There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”
Aim to be a wit this World Whisky Day. Try not to do it by halves.