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This week for Thirsty Thursday we are making the classic prohibition era cocktail, The Bee's Knees. A sweet and easy cocktail made with lemon juice, gin, and good honey, this is a wonderful spring and summer cocktail that's refreshing and timeless.
We are rounding the cusp of the end of summer, y'all. I've spent most of it moving far, far away from the deliriously hot state of Florida (and therefore away from Florida Man and Woman) and have brought my family back to the 4-seasons-having area of the DMV. We've been enjoying our cool evenings and not-as-humid days so far with grilling carne asada in our new backyard and sipping cocktails on our deck.
Which is why the bees knees cocktail is being posted today! It's bright, summery, and the variations are basically endless. It's a great drink to sip on while we enjoy these final days of summer.
History of the Bee's Knees Cocktail
Like way too many of these drinks, the origins of the bees knees is murky at best, and tales of 'he did/she did' at worst. One story says an Austrian man named Frank Meier who worked as the bartender of the Cafe Paris in the Hotel Ritz Paris created it.
Another story from the April 1929 issue of the Brooklyn Standard Union claims a gold miner's widow called the Unsinkable Molly Brown because she survived the sinking of the Titanic, invented it in the bars she was known for frequenting in Paris. Seeing as she was an American who liked to travel to Paris for their women-only bars, I'm almost certain she brought the Bee's Knees drink with her.
The most well-known idea for its origins is that it came from the United States during the prohibition era, using honey and lemon juice to get rid of the unpleasant taste of bathtub gin. The fine art of gin making wasn't in the bathtub, honey. So a touch of honey and lemon juice helped make it more palatable.
The name also makes a bit more sense with the US origin: 'the bee's knees' was a popular saying meaning 'the best', and I have a theory that it was a sneaky way of ordering your drink at speak-easies. Same with the cat's meow and all that prohibition-era slang, I bet they were just sneaky ways to order illegal alcohol.
TL;DR? the bee's knees is a variation of the standard gin sour (sans the egg white foam) that was possibly created by a woman during the prohibition era.
Making this simple cocktail
The drink is pretty blunt and strong, even with the honey, so a more modern take is to use a honey syrup which is super easy to make and makes it easy to sip on while using a natural sweetener.
To make honey syrup: In a small saucepan, you mix equal parts water and honey until the honey dissolves. You don't need a lot of it, so don't worry about using a ton of your honey.
So to make the cocktail, add all the ingredients (cool honey syrup, lemon juice, gin) to a cocktail shaker with ice.
Give it a good ole shake, then strain it into a chilled coupe glass. Serve with a lemon twist and extra syrup if you like it real sweet, and boom! You have the perfect prohibition-era cocktail that's totally the cat's pajamas. A sweet concoction that's perfect for your next happy hour.
Gin. Classically it's a dry gin, but I always say use what you like. I ended up using a really delicious Limoncello Gin that a brand sent me to work with last year while creating content for them and it was so good. So use what you like!
Fresh lemon juice. Use fresh lemons for this recipe, especially since you'll be using the peel for the lemon twist garnish.
Honey. Use a good honey that you really like, y'all! I use raw local honey that's a little darker in color. It has a more intense honey flavor and I really like that. If you're making the honey syrup then add water to this list of ingredients, and that's all we need for this bee's knees cocktail recipe!
There are so many ways to spice up a bee's knees cocktail, turning it into fun cocktails.
Lavender Scented Bee's Knees | I love this idea for a spring brunch! Gather some fresh lavender flowers (on the stem!) and steep it in the honey syrup while you're making it. Let the honey syrup cool with the lavender in it, then take it out when ready to use. Create the cocktail as usual and you have a beautiful lavender bee's knees. Or just add in a dash of lavender bitters!
French 75 | Fill a champagne flute half way with the bee's knees then fill the rest with champagne and you've got yourself a fancy french 75!
Floral Twist | An interesting variation would be to substitute the honey simple syrup with elderflower or st. germain syrups for a floral flavor.
Not a gin fan? Sub the gin for your favorite vodka.
Add Herbs | Add fresh lemon thyme, rosemary, sage, or whatever herbs you want to the honey syrup just like in the lavender variation.
Try these Amazing Summer Cocktails
- Yuzu Tom Collins
- Blackberry Bourbon Smash
- Brazilian Caipirinha Cocktail
- Mint Julep a la Dabney
- Strawberry Gin Smash
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Bee's Knees Cocktail
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup water
Bee's Knees Cocktail
- 1 oz honey syrup
- 2 oz lemon juice about 1 lemon's worth of juice
- 4 oz dry gin
- Honey Syrup
- Mix the honey and water in a microwave safe bowl or a small saucepan. Heat the bowl in the microwave or on the stovetop on medium low heat until the honey can be stirred and dissolved into the water. Pour into a heat-safe container and set aside.
- Bee's Knees Cocktail
- Fill your cocktail shaker with ice. Add in the honey syrup, lemon juice, and gin, then secure the lid onto the cocktail shaker.
- Shake for at least 30 seconds, until the shaker feels incredibly cold, then strain the cocktail into two chilled coupe or cocktail glasses.
- Serve cold with a lemon twist garnish.