Rule 37: The Bee’s Knees
For the satisfaction of Rule 37 this week, it was time for the Bee’s Knees cocktail. This is a Prohibition-era recipe, though no one seems certain exactly when it appeared. The common belief is that, like most cocktails of that time, the liquor provided wasn’t very good. At all. In fact, due to many amateur bootleggers and bathtub gin producers, a lot of spirits were downright poisonous, with additives including embalming fluid and antifreeze. It’s estimated that there were 1,000 deaths in the first year of Prohibition due to poisonous liquors. In five years, the toll had risen to 4,000+, and after seven years, an estimated 50,000 people died from adulterated liquors.
The cocktail surge really took off during The Nobel Experiment largely due to these inferior, and often dangerous, libations. Though cocktails certainly existed before Prohibition, a number of new concoctions sprang up by necessity. No longer strictly concerned with quality, fruit juices and mixers were added to bad booze to mask the smell and taste, and create a potable beverage. In the History Channel program “Rumrunners, Moonshiners And Bootleggers,” famed cocktailier Gary Regan said of such drinks:
Sidebar: Gary Regan is the author of several cocktail books, and years back, when he couldn’t find decent orange bitters, he MADE HIS OWN. The dude knows what he’s talking about.
There’s also the theory that the government was actively poisoning liquor in an attempt to discourage illegal consumption. I’m not sure how likely that is, but they have done some shady things in the past. And present.
So, the Bee’s Knees dates back to this era, and uses both lemon juice and honey to hide the taste of the liquor. However, since we now have arguably better, purer, liquor than ever before, we’ve got to step up the quality of the rest of the ingredients, and make a really fantastic drink.
The Bee’s Knees
– 2oz gin (Beefeater London Dry used)
– 3/4oz honey syrup (Blue Line Apiary brand)
– 1/2oz fresh lemon juice
Pour into mixing glass, fill shaker tin with ice. Slap them together and shake like the dickens. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon slice if desired.
This drink uses honey syrup, which is about as easy to make as simple syrup. Mix equal parts honey and hot water, and stir until the honey dissolves. Honey doesn’t really spoil easily, so this should keep for a long time in the refrigerator. I used some award-winning honey made by a beekeeping friend of mine who runs Blue Line Apiary in Maine. It’s about as fresh as you can get. Incredibly aromatic and floral, with cloying sweetness. No plastic bear for me.
There are several variations on the recipe as well. Lavender is a popular addition, as in the version I’ve enjoyed at No. 9 Park, using 3oz Plymouth gin, 3/4oz orange blossom clover honey, 3/4oz fresh lemon juice and 1tsp of muddled lavender. I walked in during one of my Monday night cocktail excursions several years ago, and proposed a challenge to the bartender (now bar manager), Ted. I hadn’t really been a gin fan, and asked him to make me a cocktail to win me over. After pausing for a moment to think, this unnamed variation on the Bee’s Knees is what he produced. It was certainly tasty, but didn’t quite sell me on gin.
Other derivations include using orange juice along with the lemon, and Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s suggestion to swap out the gin for white rum, later experimenting with an aged rum. I hadn’t heard of the similarities between gin and white rum before, and I’m curious to try several other libations with this substitution. It would certainly be a good place to put my Bully Boy white rum to good use, as it has a fantastic profile with a plethora of molasses sweetness and vanilla notes.
Super tasty. But more on that later.
<- Click the logo to visit Blue Line Apiary's page. He might sell you some honey, or beeswax candles. If you ask nicely. Or just have money. He's got a candle making contraption and everything. It looks like a medieval torture device for koala bears. I have no idea how it works.
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