As a nerd, mixing cocktails is the closest you'll ever come to being an actual wizard. All those role-playing campaigns conjuring spells and concoctions can inspire real-life adventures, although LARPing while inebriated is an excellent way to lose an eye. This author does, however, suggest that you get an embroidered cloak and a fucking wand because. Just because. Just like RPGs, drinking is an excellent way to bond with pals, regale fantastical tales and boost your courage.
A nerd drinking. The Author at Fantastic Fest, 2013. Photo by Jason Whyte.
Full disclosure: Don't drink and drive. In fact, the list of things you should do while drinking is rather limited. Please don't drink and pilot a hovercraft or dirigible. Don't drink and shoot guns. Don't drink and take your SATs. Don't drink and be stupid. You can, under the care of a professional, drink and cook, tell stories and/or dance. Also feel free to drink while you drink. This author takes no responsibility for the results of your endeavors whilst boozing, with exception to any cocktail-napkin doodles that result in award-winning designs or quantum physics breakthroughs, for which I will retain all intellectual property rights to and hold the patent.
Prior to being whisked away by his silly day job of playing pretend, this author published a kitchen adventure. With the help of some good pals, a chicken was roasted as per Mommy's directions, and great sustenance was enjoyed by all. It was a time of peace and goodwill, an era of profound bounty, an Age of Enlightenment. It was Three Weeks Ago. During this day of milk and honey, wine and roses (none of which were included in the article), an especially bright interlude shined its light on us in the form of Nathan Johnson, our composer of tunes and refreshments.
The Music Man keeps rhythm. There will be no blues.
Nathan Johnson and his equally talented wife and frequent collaborator Katie Chastain graciously lent me their love and kitchen for the Chicken Article, as well as their skills as sous chefs. While the chicken was roasting, he bestowed the gift of his favorite cocktail, the Penicillin. A very unique take on a "sour", the Penicillin uses fresh, medicinal ingredients to inspire well-being with every sip. Originally created by famed mixologist Sam Ross, the Penicillin has become a staple for many budding bartenders in the decade since its invention. Mr. Ross is currently an owner and bartender at Attaboy in New York, and previously published his now-iconic recipe in many periodicals, interviews and even an app.
The original recipe is deceptively simple:
2 oz. Scotch
3/4 oz. Lemon
3/8 oz. Honey syrup
3/8 oz. Sweetened ginger juice
1/4 oz. Islay Scotch
Add all ingredients to shaker, fill completely with ice and shake. Strain.
Now it ain't quite Ikea furniture, but anybody one-step-beyond dullard could mix that jam up. Shit. Is dullard the preferred nomenclature? If I've offended the Dullard Community, mea culpa! Some of my best friends are dullards. Not really. My friends are smarter and more talented than I'll ever be, which is a great way to stay inspired and ambitious. As usual, the key to unlocking this specific skill is just like succeeding in sex and filmmaking; be detailed, be diligent and be really good with your hands. But don't include lemon juice in either making love or movies. It's horrible for camera equipment under both circumstances. Just as in the coital act and cinematic adventures, cocktail mixing is best learned through trial and error, a discerning palate and an inclination to get very, very specific. For a few years, Nathan has been working to perfect his Penicillin. Only recently did he break down the steps in a way to get it just right.
Tools of the trade.
Saying "Scotch" is like saying "porn." It's generally a turn-on, but it only really matters when we talk specifics. And like dirty pictures, the content, characteristics and quality are paramount in a liquor's effectiveness. Nathan discovered, through pals close to the original process, that the preferred Scotch for a Penicillin is The Famous Grouse. The Famous Grouse is a blended Scotch, and has been the highest-selling brand in Scotland for over thirty years. Scotland is where Scotch comes from, so they know their shit. It's not terribly expensive, and is generally regarded as a top-notch, catch-all, go-to Scotch. It's basically the J. Lee Thompson of Scotches. While other Scotches are similar, or at least in the same wheelhouse of quality, type - such as blended - and cost, The Famous Grouse has a generations-old specificity that has helped Nathan find the heart of his Penicillin, especially considering it's the main ingredient.
Alongside the booze in the Penicillin are the syrups, the honey and ginger, which give the cocktail the spicy sweetness that cures whatever could possibly ail ya. Nathan had been following a common recipe for a combination ginger-honey syrup that involved boiling the ginger, straining and then adding honey. This is a rare case where the concept of separate-but-equal stands. Through his research, Nathan discovered that keeping the honey sequestered from the ginger and adding them one at a time was the right way to roll. More importantly, he started actually juicing his ginger raw and fresh, then adding two parts sugar to make the fresh juice into a spicy simple syrup. We all know that fresher is better. Plus, it ensures a more precise flavor, as you learn exactly what volume of ginger works for your cocktail, rather than steeping it and tasting as you go. Knowing that these are more time-consuming, Nathan has taken to making larger batches of his honey syrup (equal parts honey and water) and ginger syrup, which means that he goes through a "season of Penicillins," as he calls it.
Rounding out the main ingredients, the Islay Scotch became an area of attention for Nathan. If the blended Scotch is your workaday-but-dependable British film director, an Islay is your David Lean. It is a special, intense whisky, often characterized by very dry (not sweet) flavors. Many describe it as "smoky" and "peaty," unlike anything else. The preferred brand for Islay in this case is Laphroaig, which even on its own will make a man out of the mousiest of mices. It is the first whiff of your cocktail, invoking memories of campfires and forests, Boy Scouting that was never this fun. The key to incorporating it into your Penicillin is to avoid mixing it, but rather, "float" it on your Penicillin, spooning it on top, and even atomizing it, making you feel like a master chemist, a bar-tending Walter White.
Finally, Nathan ensures that all his accouterment is settled. He maintains that the short work of placing your glasses in the freezer to frost is a worthwhile addition, as is using the largest ice cubes possible, avoiding the watering-down effect that regular fridge cubes will produce. Nothing less than freshly juiced lemons should be considered. He also notes that the garnish, appropriately a slice of candied ginger, should be skewered with two toothpicks so it rests on the lip of the glass, not lost in the drink itself. It also looks fucking pretty, doggg.
Over the past few years, it's become rather fashionable to replace the standard ingredients in cocktails with varieties of other liquors and liqueurs. Many variations on the Penicillin have popped up, utilizing different alcohols, like rum, tequila and mezcal, the later of which has been humorously referred to by a friend and budding mixologist as the "Mexican Penicillin." Just as with real antibiotics, it is possible to have too much Penicillin, so keep your alcoholism in check by not turning into an alcoholic. And if you do, consider your compatriots like Bukowski, Winehouse and Capote. You'd better be profoundly talented and prolific if you're going to drink yourself to death. Maybe have yourself a club soda and start making great art first, boozehound.