“Brrrr! It’s cold outside, Aqua Sleep Man!” he said as they stared at him blankly. It turns out he had read the room wrong and quoting local Nashville advertisements from the 80’s was not making him any friends. Maybe they weren’t from around here, maybe they weren’t waterbed aficionados, either way, he had clearly chosen the wrong opener. “I just mean to say that it has turned unseasonably chilly”, he went on as they remained unmoved or impressed. “Perhaps, it is the damp, rather than the actual temperature, which, to be fair is only in the 40’s, unless you are from literally anywhere else in the world, in which case it is 4°, but with the winds it just feels…” he trailed off as they turned their attention elsewhere, dismissing him as a bit of a crank. That did not change the fact that he was cold or that he really felt the need for some sort of warm pick me up to make him feel better. Noting that no one was actually tending the bar, he slipped behind it and thought better of asking the crowd if they would join him now as he stood to make the Hot Penicillin.

Obviously, this drink, created by Aperitif Hour founder, Amanda Victoria, is a heated riff on the Sam Ross modern classic, Penicillin, which is his smoky riff on the classic Whiskey Sour, which is an inspired riff on just drinking whiskey straight. It is often said that “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.” One could argue then that this version provides further evidence, as if any more were needed, for Darwin’s theory of evolution. A hot variation perfect for chilly days, just like the Penichillin provides a frozen version for warmer weather. Which I could be making within the week if our comically out of sync weather stays true to form. The point being that this drink adapts to its surroundings in order to thrive. I am, historically, not a huge fan of hot cocktails, but I am also famously open-minded, so we are going to give it a whirl and let any chips that arise, fall where they may.

The first step is to heat some apple cider on the stove. You don’t want to boil it or anything, just get to a little beyond a nice sipping temperature. This is a built drink, so grab a mug and temper it with hot water, while your cider heats. When you are ready to assemble, discard the hot water, crank up Motley Crüe’s “Dr. Feelgood“, cause it’s all about the feeling, and combine, 1 ounce of blended scotch, I chose Dewar’s 12 year for its smoky character; 1 ounce of your hot apple cider, I went with Red Jacket Orchards; 1/2 an ounce of fresh squeezed lemon juice, 1/4 ounce of 2:1 honey simple syrup, 2 drops of 18-21 Havana & Hide Bitters and give that a good stir. Top with ginger beer, I chose Reed’s Jamaican and garnish with a lemon slice and maybe some candied ginger on a pick.

As I said before, I don’t care for hot cocktails, historically. I am also often wrong, historically. This is lovely. A wonderful blend of flavors. This is everything I love about the original Penicillin only updated to be perfect for sitting by the window watching the cold rain fall with a good book and a warm cocktail. I did not expect to like this, but it works for me. My main complaint with hot cocktails is that they tend to taste watered down, usually because you add hot water to them. By skipping the water and bringing the heat from the cider, this one avoids that pitfall to create a cocktail that maintains its intensity while bringing a nice warm feeling, just lovely all the way around,

I chose this drink for three reasons. One, it is cold out and I wanted something to warm me up and the combination of whiskey and heat seems perfect. Two, I have always loved the base drink, so I wanted to try this riff before the weather gets too warm to justify making any more hot drinks. Thirdly, and most importantly, today marks two weeks since I got my second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, so I am at the zenith of my “stupid coronavirus that has stolen so much from us over the past year that we cannot even begin to process the things we lost, collectively or individually, while recognizing that there were high points along the way in experiences gained while dealing with the mind-numbing, soul-crushing reality we have been living in, trying to navigate a world divided by those who deny science and empathy in favor of convenience and political solidarity all while keeping food on the table and toilet paper in the bathrooms for our families and those who rely on us, with only our wits and the occasional, ok daily, shouts into the darkness to stave off the depression that comes stalking quietly on little cat’s feet, like an all-consuming fog, when it isn’t stomping around in its +2 Boots of Frustration screaming on the inside at those who still can’t figure out how masks or distancing works or at least take the damned shot that will protect them and anyone else they lick on the way to the grocery, the folks who spend their time positing their carefully “researched on youtube” opinions as fact because it feels right to them, as opposed to appreciating the amazing miracle that science has been able to achieve when called upon to save our collective asses, so we can all get back to a normal life where we can meet and hug our friends without the fear of inadvertently bringing a killer, a disease without gender or nationality, by the way, into their house” level of vaccinated invulnerability. Do I believe all of that? Probably. Well, except the being invulnerable part, I understand the science well enough to recognize that I am only at height of the protection afforded by the vaccine. As for the rest of that rant, as long as I believe it, does it matter whether I got my facts right? You’re damned right it matters. So, hats off to all of you who have taken the time to learn about the process, to fill out the forms and wait in line in order to get that shot that protects you, your family, your neighbors and is key to getting everyone back to school safely and to reopening all of our businesses and life. As a fella who knew a thing or two about evolving situations once said,

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. 

Charles Darwin

We’ve been here before. When the drug penicillin was first released, there were many who were skeptical of using this “medicine” derived from mold. Folks who just couldn’t see how putting mold in their bodies could do anything but make them sicker or sterile or more susceptible to those new fangled radio waves that the BBC had begun broadcasting only six years before Fleming would observe the bacteria killing properties of Penicillium rubens in his London laboratory. It makes sense, information was harder to come by at the time. One would have to become a member of the Royal Academy of Medicine and gain access to their library, which would have all the latest science, properly bound and placed on their shelves, within a year or so of its discovery. So they had a good excuse. We, on the other hand, have access to nearly up to the minute reporting on the entire process of a worldwide effort. What a brave new world we live in, where we have access to more knowledge than at any time in history. So many choices of what to ignore. Don’t ignore this drink though, it will cure what ails you, assuming that you suffer from a mild chill or melancholic disposition, as I do. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.