Hitting all the important flavour markers of a perfect cocktail, the bee’s knees is a classic Prohibition-era drink. Herbaceous, sweet and sour, it’s obvious why this has survived and thrived since the 1920s.
Back in 380BCE, the great philosopher Plato famously wrote “our need will be the real creator”, which eventually lead to our modern phrase ‘creation is the mother of necessity.’ But let’s not get too high-minded about this.
We are—after all—talking about cocktails!
But the savage times of American Prohibition paved the way to so many cocktails we still love today.
Hiding alcohol in medicinal recipes or—even worse—hiding bad alcohol behind medicinal flavours was common practice in the 1920s.
They also needed to be quick to make, good to drink and require as few ingredients as possible.
Balancing the trifecta win of flavours perfectly, the Bee’s Knees uses the spices and herbs from gin, sourness of lemon juice and unctuous umami sweetness of honey, and delivers on all those points secret speakeasy bartenders were looking for too.
How to make a Bee’s Knees cocktail
- 60ml gin - we prefer Stone Pine’s Original Dry Gin for this
- 20ml honey syrup (equal parts dissolved honey and water)
- 15ml lemon juice
1. Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and shake until well-chilled.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
Even though this cocktail is from the USA’s Prohibition Era, its origins are French. Austrian cocktail barman Frank Meier is credited with its creation from when he worked at the Hotel Ritz Paris in the ‘20s.
However, as many affluent Americans travelled to Europe during Prohibition not solely for but certainly motivated by the ease of access to alcohol, it didn’t take long for the drink to travel across the pond.
Soon enough, secret bars and canny apothecaries were stirring up Bee’s Knees for thirsty punters around the States.
From the Bee’s Knees also came the Gold Rush cocktail, which replaces gin with whisky.
Where does the Bee’s Knees get its name?
Obviously the honey ingredient makes sense of where the Bee’s Knees gets its name, but the expression itself is also of its time.
Apparently coined by flappers of the 1920s who often compared things they thought was great to animals, ‘the bee’s knees’ was really brought into the vernacular by one of the era’s great American cartoonist, Tad Dorgan.
He also popularised exclamations like ‘the cat’s pyjamas’, ‘for crying out loud’ and ‘applesauce’ (to mean nonsense), and—our favourite—a ‘nickel-nurser’ for someone who never buys a shout!
No matter what, this delicious, easy-drinking gin cocktail certainly deserves its name; it certainly is the Bee’s Knees in our book.