The bee’s knees, along with the cat’s whiskers, entered the US lexicon in the 1920s. Both phrases are called into use to describe something of excellence. The Bee’s Knees, a sweet, citrus cocktail, lives up to its moniker, and will no doubt leave you buzzing too. This is one to sip when under the thrall of a dark and hazy speakeasy.
How we make a Bees Knees:
2 teaspoons honey
20ml fresh lemon juice
20ml fresh orange juice
(Adapted from Diffordsguide Cocktails, The Bartender’s Bible. 10th Edition).
Add gin and honey to a shaker and stir until the honey dissolves. Add the lemon and orange juice and top up with ice. Shake well. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with an orange zest twist. As an alternative, try pouring the cocktail on the rocks – it’s not quite the same but it’s perfect for the occasions where either you (or a guest) is wants a touch more dilution as the ice helps break up the sweetness and allows the cocktail to loosen up a little.
An abridged, inebriated history:
The Bee’s Knees is thought to have emerged during Prohibition era America, when bathtub gin was all the rage. Adding spoonfuls of honey to such bitter alcohol certainly would have helped to mask the harshness, and when mixed with the lemon would create a more appetising and sweet concoction. Honey wasn’t much of a fixture in the cocktail world at the time, but it provides warm, floral undertones that aren’t present in sugar and which create a complex maze of flavours when placed into a simple drink.
One of the earliest references to the Bees Knees cocktail is found in 1948’s legendary cocktail book The Fine Art of Mixing Drink, by David Embury (printed at the bottom of this article). He said:
“Early in the book I spoke in disparaging terms of the Bee’s Knees. This, however, was because as it originally came out during prohibition days it consisted of equal parts lemon juice, honey, and gin. If made as a variation of the standard Gin Sour, merely substituting honey for the sugar syrup is acceptable.”
Fortunately the drink survived Embury’s criticism, and became widely popular. It is, after all, the bee’s knees. We wonder if a version made with an Old Tom would be called The Cat’s Whiskers?
Try different honeys in this cocktail, as it will sway the drink’s profile hugely. One of our favourite types of honey to use is Borage Honey, which is almost gin clear in it’s own right, fresher to taste with a delicate floral note, perfect for a lighter Bees Knees and the ideal choice for an Embury recreation.
David Embury’s Bee’s Knees:
25 ml Gin
25ml Lemon Juice
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