The Great Toronto Cocktail Challenge: The Penicillin
To wrap up what has been, by far, the most indulgent two-week bender I've ever been on, I wanted to end on some kind of high note; something modern, unique and — perhaps a little selfishly — absolutely delicious. The problem of course is that , in a perfect world, I'd also just stumble on it unexpectedly and effortlessly, and it's not really possible to plan for such serendipity.
But when I was tipped off about a place over in Riverside decorated with stylish sofas and dark wood that stocks a bottle selection of over 55 import beers and takes their drink mixing seriously enough to do their own juicing, it started to sound like just the place I was looking for.
I stepped into The Comrade shortly after in opened on a rainy evening, there were already a couple people sitting at the bar, one drinking a Steigl from a tall and narrow Stange, the other a Koningshoeven served in a wide and shallow coupe.
I initially decided on of the more common pre-prohibition era cocktails to have been brought back from the dead recently, a Corpse Reviver #2. But on the recommendation of my bartender, I switched to a more modern concoction: The Penicillin.
The Penicillin is a recent enough invention that when people talk about it, they don't say what year it was created. But its inventor — Sam Ross — is still one of the hottest bartenders working in New York City, so you know it's recent.
Penicillin - 2.25oz, $11.00
Fresh lemon juice
Honey Ginger syrup
Top Notes - 9/10
It's not immediately clear exactly what inspired the name Penicillin; my best guess is just that "it'll cure what ails ya."
This cocktail is served in a lovely crystal double rocks glass filled with cracked ice and garnished with a piece of candied ginger.
It's funny the kind of visual signifiers you can get from a glass. For instance, when a drink is served with lots of ice, even before tasting it I think refreshment. I think warm weather, drinking outdoors and sunshine and a bright cocktail like this would suit that setting perfectly. It's not a fruity drink, but rather, has the depth and sophistication of a modern classic.
The Back End - 10/10
This drink is made with 2oz of blended scotch with a quarter ounce of super-smoky Islay floated on top, but it's the Laphroaig that really puts this cocktail over the top. It's a crucial counterbalance to the spicy brightness of the ginger and lemon, the thing that really makes the drink taste unique.
Saying that, this is actually the second drink I've sampled that uses Laphroaig as a sort of garnish. The first, Petey's Mescal Muddle at The Toronto Temperance Society, used a Laphroaig wash to a very similar effect. It leaves this peaty aroma in the glass that gets into your nose as much as it does your palate and addresses and entirely different set of taste buds as the rest of the drink. If feels like the kind of accent you could add to a number of cocktails to provide more depth. It works particularly well here as the blended scotch base and spicy ginger act as the link between the peat and the honey-lemon.
Finish - 9/10
Ultimately, this was just the pleasant surprise I was looking to finish the series on. It's a cocktail that was completely new to me, with some familiar flavours set off with an inventive twist. Since trying it, I've done a little research on the drink, and I've seen some bars muddle a few slices of fresh ginger into the drink rather than use ginger syrup, which could only make this even better. A little more pronounced ginger would play nicely with the Islay Scotch — regardless though, for those strolling through Riverside, this is definitely worth a pit stop.
So, that's it, challenge complete. Tune in tomorrow for the round up.
Total Score: 28/30 (93%)
Previously in the series