The Bee’s Knees

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The origin of the Bee’s Knees cocktail is lost to history, but we do know that it popped up sometime during Prohibition. The recipe doesn’t appear anywhere in my copy of The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book by Albert Stevens Crockett, but my Trader Vic’c Bartender’s Guide shows two recipes, one for a Bee’s Knees made with applejack, and one for a Bee’s Knee made with gin. Both recipes, however, call for honey and lemon.

If you accept that the Bee’s Knees was born during Prohibition (which is about the time that the phrase “the bee’s knees” popped up, then gin as a base sounds a reasonable assumption.

We started building this drink with light-bodied gins like Beefeater and Tanqeray No. 10, but experimented with white rum soon after, as white rum and dry gin have similar flavor profiles. Really, try it sometime. You can slip white rum in for gin in just about any cocktail recipe and it will usually turn out pretty well. Anyway…

While figuring out the proper proportions, it was decided that a simple syrup made from honey would be easier to mix with, and would have the added benefit of perfectly balancing the lemon. Two parts of gin later, an orange twist as garnish, and we were done. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this long-forgotten cocktail as much as we do, it’s become an after-work staple at El Vaquero already.

The Bee's Knees Print Me

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz honey syrup*
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  1. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice until cold.
  2. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  3. Garnish with an orange twist.

*Honey syrup is easily made by combining two parts honey (we use an organic blackberry honey from the specialty foods store) and one part boiling water. Stir until completely mixed, bottle and refrigerate.

Recipe printed courtesy of jeffreymorgenthaler.com

10 Replies to “The Bee’s Knees”

  • Why not try a Canchánchara? It is made with Rum (aguardiente de cana), lemon juice, and honey.

    A fellow webtender reported that strawberry and peach versions of the Canchánchara were very popular in his Italian bar.

  • Dominik MJ says:

    Actually your Pyrat’s b*knees sounds very good!

    Yeah – Pyrat XO has a incredible orange tang (but I don’t taste honey in it – anyway, we add honey) and it works very well in several top shelf cocktails!

    Well done!

  • Jeffrey says:

    Damn it, George, you’re good. I had seen so many people making the Bee’s Knees with white rum that I figured it was another one of those cocktails with no formal recipe. And speaking of peach, I have another cocktail to post next week.

    Dominik, once you try the rum this way, you’re guaranteed to never not taste the honey tones of Pyrat again, I promise!

  • Jeffrey,

    I cannot wait to make this drink, your blog is great and is really helping me do better with my mixology.

    Off topic, where is a good place to find good quality bar tools? I have been all over (typical places Williams and Sonoma, Pottery Barn, “then the bar cause those places drive me nuts”) and I cannot seem to find proper barware, i.e. bar knife, peeler, antique juicer, etc..

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks

  • Jeffrey says:

    Sean

    Thanks for the kudos, I’m glad you’re enjoying the site!

    As for barware, our good friend Sean Bigley’s site UltimateBarChef.com has a section with bar supplies for sale.

    Start there!

    Cheers.

  • Sean Bigley says:

    Hi Jeffrey,

    I assisted Dale DeGroff with a seminar at Bellagio several months ago. He had made a Bee’s Knees both with Gin and Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum side by side. What a wonderful experience. I got to thin out the honey for him! Whoo Hoo!

    Thanks for the plugs! Keep a close lookout for ultimatebarchef.com mail in cocktail competition coming soon. Working out all of the details now. You will be one of the first to know

    By the way, it looks like Lisa and I will both be attending Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans! I’m sure we’ll have a great time together and we are looking forward to it. But beware, Julio “El Diablo” Bermejo will be there. OUCH!

    Cheers!
    Sean

  • Anna Moore says:

    Good grief, this is tasty! I’ve been following your blog for a little while, and just recently bought my first bottle of Pyrat XO because I’ve been dying to try this cocktail. Well done!

  • Thanks, Anna! The Pyrat is a wonderful product, I’m glad you’re enjoying the drink.

    Jeff

  • Chase says:

    Jeff,

    I just came across this recipe and decided to play with it using my favorite liquor, the incredibly versatile and under utilized tequila! Higher quality anejo or resposado tequilas are particularly well suited for the honey and lemon combo. So far I have found that Don Julio anejo, which is naturally sweeter, is perfect for this cocktail. Thanks for the ideas!

    Chase

  • Chase, Don Julio añejo sounds like a great choice for this one. Good call!

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