The bee’s knees cocktail is made with honey syrup instead of simple syrup along with gin and citrus, whether lemon or lime. The cocktail has its origins in Prohibition, back when simple cocktails reigned sweet and supreme.
The bee’s knees cocktail, unlike so many fussy cocktails these days, dates back to the Prohibition era in the 1930s. “The phrase ‘bee’s knees’ was slang at the time for ‘the best,'” explains the author. “During this period, the addition of ingredients such as citrus and honey covered the less-than-ideal smell and taste of bathtub gin.” Just imagine how superlative the cocktail is when made with fine booze.–David Leite
Bee’s Knees Cocktail
- Cocktail shaker
For the honey simple syrup
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup water
For the bee’s knees
- Ice cubes for shaker
- 2 ounces good-quality gin
- 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
- 3/4 ounce honey simple syrup
- Lemon twist for garnish
Make the honey simple syrup
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the honey and water until they’re well combined. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. (You can cover and refrigerate the honey simple syrup for up to a couple weeks.)
Make the bee’s knees
- In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine the gin, lemon or lime juice, and honey simple syrup. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The gin drinker in our family was pleasantly surprised that he liked this so much. It was quick to put together. The longest part was waiting for the honey simple syrup to cool, which took about 10 minutes. So during that time I squeezed the 1 1/2 limes needed to get one punch of juice. We used Tanqueray 10.
This is a great classic cocktail to have in your repertoire. It’s really simple and impressive. You can quickly make the honey syrup by adding some warm water to honey as opposed to simmering it. Shaken and served up in a martini glass, this recipe makes one cocktail. I find that this can be a little on the sweet side for my taste, so I might tone down the honey syrup next time to 1/2 ounce or so. A nice variation would be to add some sort of fresh herb to the shaker, depending on the season—thyme, basil, rosemary, or lavender are all nice additions. A really simple three-ingredient cocktail that comes together in minutes.
This bee’s knees is very tasty! The drink was easy to make. This recipe has made me want to venture out and try gin in other cocktails. Many of the drinks I’ve had in the past with gin didn’t seem very tasty to me. I believe the lemon juice and honey brought out the wonderful flavors of the drink and left me wanting more. It was refreshing and intoxicating at the same time! I look forward to sharing it with friends when they come by. Be sure to make plenty of simple syrup.
This cocktail is absolutely delightful. I made it on a Sunday afternoon and we drank them on the patio in the sun. I used creamed organic honey with hot water. I didn’t need to heat it on the stove; instead I just stirred until it dissolved. We juiced 4 lemons and we had enough juice and syrup for 4 generous cocktails. I shook the ingredients with ice and served them in rocks glasses with fresh ice. The flavor of the honey and lemon is subtle but just strong enough to smooth out the gin—we all liked the cocktail even though there were varying levels of gin appreciation in the group. I’ve only recently started drinking gin and was quite pleased with how it turned out. I do love the flavor of honey and it’s showcased nicely in this drink. Diluting it with water cuts down on the sweetness but still gives you the flavor. I plan on making these again as they were a big hit.
Hot day? Trying day? This Bees Knees will have you quickly sitting back and recuperating from life’s challenges. It’s lovely. It’s refreshing. It’s Gatsby-esque without the drama. Even my gin-averse husband enjoyed it. As with most any recipe, the end result depends on the ingredients you use. I used Blaum Bros. gin (from Galena, IL) and “homegrown” honey (from Berrien Springs, MI). It could be fun to mix other gins and honeys for comparison. The drink chills quickly in the shaker, so I served my drink neat. I’m not a fast drinker (you could call me a cheap date) so I didn’t add ice to the glass as I didn’t want it to get watered down.
This is a classic, simple, straightforward recipe—and a nice alternative to a martini. That said, it is way too drinkable—in a lovely, yummy way—so serve it responsibly. I tried a couple of ways to serve it and also to see if just a little nudge could make it more special. I prefer it over ice to without. Without ice, a half portion is more of an aperitif, which is appropriate if you are serving it before a meal where there might be other drinks or wine. Ice slightly slows you from downing it, which is easy to do since the balance between sweetness and sour is so good and the honey isn’t excessively dominant. Feeling like this would be a good start for something just a little more sophisticated, I also tried 3 variations. First was just adding a dash of Angostura Orange bitters. Next was a sprig of thyme in the shaker, and last, a long curl of lemon zest which we had very briefly smoked. The bitters are the most successful addition, just adding a little depth without the extra sweetness that orange juice might add. I like the thyme, which is a natural with lemon and gin. The smoked zest was a wild card – it alters the whiff you get when you raise your glass more than the taste, but maybe just slightly flaming the zest would work as well. Not for everyone. The bitters definitely are an upgrade. If you do not see yourself serving a large group, consider making a half batch of the honey syrup so it doesn’t go to waste.
I made the drink both ways—once on the rocks and once neat. I liked the neat version better because I found that, as the rocks melted, the drink became quite watery. The bottom line—the drink is very pleasant and refreshing, and I liked it a lot. I would compare it to other drinks made with spirits, lemon or lime juice, and a sweetener, like a margarita. It’s mellower than a margarita, of course, because gin is mellower than tequila and lemons are mellower than limes. In the interest of thorough research, I made yet a third variation on the recipe, substituting lime juice for lemon juice, and leaving everything else the same. I liked it better because the tartness of the lime balanced the sweetness of the honey, However, both were very nice drinks.
I would have to agree that this cocktail goes down a little too easy. Perfectly smooth and a perfect blend of flavors—not too sweet and not too sour. We enjoyed the first round of Bees Knees strained and served on the rocks with a slice of lemon. We loved it so much we decided to go for another round. (Un)fortunately, we were out of ice, but I had a bag of frozen raspberries in the freezer. I swapped the berries for the ice which added a nice tartness—the Beez Knees had a little buzz to it! I’m happy the recipe for the honey syrup produced enough for 32 cocktails. I put the remaining syrup in small Mason jars in my fridge and I look forward to having this on hand for future cocktail recipes.
Originally published February 23, 2018
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
The perfect cocktail and the gin-lover’s alternative to a lemon drop! The honey is a nice background flavor, like the gin, and the extra complexity results in a perfect cocktail. Although this had a lovely sweetness, you could go just a bit scant and still be happy. Making the honey simple syrup only takes a few minutes and cools quickly. Don’t skip the lemon twist—it’s part of the drink, like the tiny ice floes formed by the shaking. I used 1/2 cup each honey and water, brought to a simmer, and then taken off the heat to cool. The gin was Tanqueray (ordinary London Dry Gin green bottle and not Tanqueray 10). This recipe is perfect for one drink. I made a double batch for two people. Immensely drinkable—even quaffable.