Prohibition-era cocktails. They just will not go away. The Bees Knees is yet another example of a speakeasy classic that has stood the test of time to become a drink still enjoyed 100 years on, as though it was created yesterday.
You may have heard of it again and again and you may have even sipped on this brilliant honey-flavored cocktail without ever wondering what’s in it and how to make it.
Let’s nip that curiosity right in the bud because here we have the definitive guide of everything you need to know about the Bees Knees cocktail to impress friends, dates, and guests!
What Is the Bees Knees Cocktail?
Simply put, the Bees Knees is to a Gin Sour what a Brooklyn is to a Manhattan.
It’s a simple twist that opens up a whole new array of tastes, notes, and flavors to make it an outstanding cocktail in its own right. Take the Gin Sour’s classic combination of Gin, lemon juice, and sugar, and swap out your sugar for some honey syrup.
Thought to be the brainchild of Austrian Frank Meier in 1920s Paris, the honey syrup creates a richer, heavier drink, making its name a brilliant double entendre.
Now, with only three ingredients, there’s plenty of room to play around with the Bees Knees and explore different ratios and variations to keep it feeling fresh and exciting but before we get to all of that, let’s jump into how to make the basic drink:
An Amazing and Simple Bees Knees Recipe
Step One: Honey Syrup
Have you ever tried to make a cold drink with just honey? If you haven’t, don’t. Honey really doesn’t mix well with cold liquids; it just comes out in inconsistent clumps. That’s why we’re starting this recipe by making some honey syrup, so as not to wreck the smooth palate of the Bees Knees cocktail.
Simply bring a saucepan of equal parts honey and water to a boil, then leave to simmer until the honey has dissolved, stirring regularly. Once the mixture is consistent, leave to cool and then refrigerate, where it will keep for up to a month.
Honey Syrup is a great asset for any home bartender and can be used in cocktails such as the Brown Derby and Gold Rush.
Step Two: A Gin, Honey, and Lemon Shakeup
As always, we start by chilling out the glass, a coupe in this case. Then, add 2 ounces dry gin, ¾ ounce lemon juice, and ½ ounce honey syrup to your Boston Shaker.
Fill with ice and shake until the shaker is chilled to the touch. Discard the ice in your glass and finely strain, garnishing with a simple lemon twist.
Bees Knees Drink Variations
In 1948, David Embury suggested adding ⅓ ounce of orange juice into the shaker in his book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
The orange juice helps reinforce both the sweetness of the honey and the citrusy zest of the lemon juice to give an ‘interesting variation’ while also keeping the drink familiar enough to be recognized as the classic we all know and love.
Take your standard Bees Knees as given above, split it between two flutes, then top with Champagne. Replace the lemon twist with a lemon wheel garnish and you (almost) have yourself a French 75. Easily the sexiest and classiest of all the gin-based cocktails, the standard French 75 recipe does not use honey, but a Bees Knees 75 is a nice twist on both drinks, meeting in the middle to create a sweet, bubbly surprise absolutely bursting with flavor.
A perfect variation for summer, and a brilliant way to get more out of your Bees Knees if you’re serving a large number of guests, don’t overlook this spin on the gin, honey, lemon classic.
The last way we’ll recommend spicing up the Bees Knees drink is with some exciting liqueurs. There are a few choices here, but the three best are going to be St. Germain, Crème de Violette, and Chambord, all keeping true to the drink’s original French heritage.
These liqueurs are elderflower, violet, and raspberry flavored respectively, and adding a ⅓-½ ounce of any to your original recipe is going to bring out some beautiful herbal notes in your Bees Knees, conjuring up images of Chateaus and yachts, the classy European aura which only comes with the best of cocktails.
All three of these liqueurs are extremely versatile, allowing you to make all sorts of other drinks from Elderflower Collins to an Aviation!
What Kind of Gin to Buy?
With thousands of choices out there, it can feel overwhelming looking for the right Gin to buy. The heaviness of the honey means you can get away with using a middle-shelf gin rather than breaking the bank.
We recommend a London Dry Gin to really accentuate the juniper notes, especially if using any of the floral liqueurs recommended above. Bombay Sapphire, Sipsmith, or Tanqueray will all do a cracking job of making a Bees Knees to be proud of and will never leave you wishing you’d spent more. (In fact, Bombay Sapphire is my go-to for all of my gin-based cocktails!)
A Bees Knees, With Ease
So there it is. The definitive guide to the Bees Knees cocktail.
A simple mix of gin, lemon, and honey which acts as a brilliant canvas to layer all sorts of notes and textures on top of. If you’ve never tried making one of these before, make sure you give it a go.
My personal favorite is the standard recipe, made with Bombay Sapphire, and with ½ ounce of St Germain liqueur. The perfect European-style summer drink for if you’re not 100% sure where to start.
I started bartending in 2017, just 4 days after my 18th birthday, at a cocktail bar in my hometown. I immediately fell in love with the art and science of mixology and have since worked in bars across Yarm, York and Liverpool in England.