The Bee’s Knees sounds just as fun as it actually tastes. The name is an old expression meaning great or excellent, in the same vein as ‘cat’s pajamas’ meant someone who is admirable and great at what they’re doing. So let’s take a look at the old style Bee’s Knees and see if it really is the bee’s knees.
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What is the Bee’s Knee’s?
Bee’s Knees is a variation on the gin sour, employing gin, lemon juice, and adding a bit of honey syrup to sweeten the whole affair just a smidge. The actual origin of the cocktail is debatable, but most accounts point to the 1920’s era, and the most prominent story claims a Titanic survivor, Mrs. Margaret Brown invented the Bee’s Knees while vacationing in Paris. Another version claims Frank Meier invented the Bee’s Knees at the Ritz in Paris.
While neither version agrees on who first made it, both agree the drink came about in the 1920s, and in Paris, France. The lemon juice was a common addition to gin sours, and the honey syrup was either an original twist on the classic or a way to mask lower quality gin. In the early 20th century sweet cocktails weren’t a thing, since the flavor of neat alcohol was showcased instead of mellowed. As the Prohibition era went on, poor quality alcohol had to be masked with various ingredients, often syrups.
Regardless of the actual origin, today Bee’s Knees just sounds awesome and makes you think of a fuzzy bee and its many knees. And it actually tastes like I’d imagine a bee’s pollen-laden legs would taste !
Bee's Knees Cocktail Recipe
- 2 oz gin
- 0.75 lemon juice
- 0.5 honey syrup
- lemon twist to garnish
- In a shaker add gin, lemon juice, honey syrup, ice. Shake very well.
- Strain into chilled coupe or very small Martini glass.
- Garnish with lemon twist.
- The honey syrup is extremely easy, 2:1 honey to water ratio. Combine in jigger, stir until diluted.
- You can also express a little lemon peel if you like, but the lemon flavor is noticeable enough with the juice.
When is this drink best ?
The Bee’s Knees is great as a cocktail hour drink, dinner drink, but maybe not a clubbing drink. I think it’s on the sophisticated side and definitely not something you can easily drink without stopping to appreciate every sip. And due to its lovely shade of light yellow, I think it works absolutely amazing in a daytime setting where you can admire the color in your coupe.
My thoughts on Bee’s Knees
I loved it ! For someone who doesn’t usually like gin, this is a big improvement in a gin sour and I think the honey is 100% responsible for it. It’s not a sweet cocktail, not like a Pina Colada or Long Island Iced Tea. But it’s just sweet enough to mitigate some of the sourness in the lemon juice and the flavor of honey just pairs so beautifully with the gin ! And the lemon juice, but mostly with the gin. I used London Dry so it has a very juniper-forward flavor, and again I think that works great with honey and lemon.
In my opinion this is a great option if you want something gin-based but don’t want to go the Martini route. Still dainty, can still be served in a small Martini glass, and it even looks better.
If you like Bee’s Knees, you might also like…
Gin sour – sweet and tart mix of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white
Cosmopolitan – vodka-based but still sour and just the smallest hint of sweetness
Honeysuckle – a white rum Bee’s Knees
Tequila Honey Bee – a tequila and honey mix
Notes, substitutes, and tips
The honey syrup is extremely easy to make but just as easy to mess up an get it clumpy. To avoid any clumps, mix your honey and water (2:1 ratio) in a jigger or in a small glass. Doesn’t have to be warm water, with enough patience you can dilute the honey with cold water and a teaspoon. Stir it until it gets cloudy.
If you add straight honey to the shaker and then ice the honey will clump and freeze onto the ice. Don’t do that, if you make the syrup in the shaker add your water and lemon juice and stir very, very well before you add the gin and ice.
Shake all ingredients and strain to avoid the foam. This forms quite a bit of foam, and normally you wouldn’t serve that. But you do you, if you want to top with the foam it could look quite nice.
Make sure the gin you use is one you love, since you’ll be tasting a lot of it. If going for flavored gin then citrus, raspberry, and rosemary would work great here.