With a history more elusive than a speakeasy door, there are few documented facts about The Bee's Knees. We do know this classic cocktail originated during Prohibition. Its namesake is a slang term from the same era used to describe something of the utmost excellence. However, the drink didn't appear in print until the late 1940s, when it showed up in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury.
The Bee's Knees is equally simple and complex. Its simplicity is found in the short list of ingredients: gin, lemon juice and honey. It's a gin sour made with honey instead of simple syrup. However, its complexity lies in that variation. Honey has layers of sweetness and floral notes, giving it heavy influence over the flavor of the drink. And not all honey is alike. Similar to terroir's role in winemaking, the environment, climate and particular flora of the region where the honey was produced greatly influence the flavors present in a given bottle.
This is a great gateway cocktail for making gin lovers out of those who have sworn off the stuff. Most people who don't like gin can be heard reciting the rationale, "I don't like drinking a Christmas tree." However, the evergreen flavor of the juniper present in most gins is easily overpowered in a cocktail (unless, of course, it's a gin martini or gin and tonic). Furthermore, the other botanicals, herbs and roots present in gin add complexity to cocktails that vodka simply doesn't offer. In The Bee's Knees, citrus is the predominant flavor, and depending on the gin you use, you could find nice cardamom, orrisroot and lavender notes dancing on your palate.
The Bee's Knees
Serves | 1 |
- 1½ oz gin, preferably North Shore Distiller's Gin No. 6 or Tanqueray No. 10
- ¾ oz lemon juice
- ¾ oz honey (or honey syrup)*
- lemon twist
| Preparation | Mix all ingredients except lemon twist in a shaker, add ice and shake for 15 seconds. Fine-strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
*If using raw honey, stir all the ingredients together until well-combined before adding ice.
When using honey in cocktails, you have two options: raw honey or honey syrup. If you're using raw honey, it's important to stir the honey with the other ingredients until it's dissolved before you add ice to the shaker. If you don't, the honey will gel up and form a hard clump.
Making honey syrup is easy, and it eliminates the problem of honey gelling when added to ice. Simply combine equal parts honey and water in a pot, bring it to just above simmering (about 170°F) and then remove from heat. Once it's cooled to room temperature, it's ready to be used or bottled for future use. Just keep in mind that once you add water to honey, it will start to ferment after one to two weeks. (If it sits longer than that, you're making mead.) To create a more flavorful honey syrup, add dried herbs or spices to the pot while the syrup is simmering. In the spring, try dried lavender flowers, mint or orrisroot. In fall and winter, add cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves or allspice.
Matt Seiter is a co-founder of the United States Bartenders' Guild's St. Louis chapter, a member of the national board for the USBG's MA program and a continuing educator for all desiring knowledge of the craft of mixology. He is a member of Drink Lab and is the creator of the Sanctuaria Cocktail Club.