The Bee’s Knees Vintage Cocktail is a Prohibition era drink that is still perfect today! Shake gin, fresh lemon juice & honey simple syrup until ice cold and serve in a cocktail glass with a twist.
If I’m going to have a cocktail, I always lean towards gin. The Bee’s Knees is a Prohibition era gin cocktail that is right up my alley. Fresh lemon juice and honey simple syrup are combined with gin and shaken until ice cold, then served up with a twist of lemon peel. It’s tart, sweet and strong!
These days, we have access to many different brands of top shelf gin (and other liquors), but during the Prohibition era, that was not the case. During Prohibition there was a constitutional ban on everything to do with alcoholic beverages. The drinking of them, the production of them, the distribution and sale of them – you name it! The restrictions were in place from 1920 to 1933, which is a long time to go without a drink. I’m sure everyone has watched a period movie where the characters in a gin joint all suddenly ran for the door when the police showed up. Bars were illegal too, of course, and enjoying a cocktail could be a costly experience!
Because of the bans on liquor production, the gin that was available for purchase on the black market was the opposite of delicious. It was made to be very strong, with no time given to flavor. Most of the cocktails from the Prohibition era were created to mask the taste of this bad “bathtub” gin (or whiskey, etc.). Bartenders would add strong flavors, like the lemon juice and honey syrup in the Bee’s Knees, so people wouldn’t complain about the flavor of the gin.
The “bee’s knees” was a term used in the 20’s to denote something that was the best, or great! Which this drink definitely is.
Thankfully we are now able to buy good gin (Bombay Sapphire is my favorite), and we don’t need to mask it’s flavor. However, this doesn’t mean that the cocktails created in the Prohibition era aren’t still good ideas! This is a simple cocktail, all you need are gin, lemon juice and honey simple syrup, but it covers all the right notes.
I also occasionally add a spicy note to my honey simple syrup by adding some cayenne pepper or ground chipotle chili pepper! It doesn’t make the drink HOT, it just gives it a little extra zing with a slight heat at the back of your throat. This is completely optional of course.
First you’ll want to make your honey simple syrup. Just like with other simple syrups, you’ll use a one to one ratio for the sweet component, in this case honey, and water. As I mentioned, I wanted to add a little kick to the syrup, so I also added a some ground chipotle chili powder.
Make the honey simple syrup far enough in advance that it is nice and chilled before you make your drink. It lasts forever in the fridge, so I made it a few days ahead of time and had enough to shake up a few rounds of cocktails.
Besides making the honey syrup, the only other prep work is to squeeze some fresh lemon juice. I love these colorful citrus squeezers, they’re really easy to use. You get all the lemon juice, in my opinion more juice than when I squeeze by hand. You also get none of the seeds since they are trapped by the holes in the tool, and your hands don’t get full of juice either. All you have to do is cut the lemon in half and squeeze it!
Although the point of this drink was originally to disguise the taste of the “bathtub” gin, I like to use my favorite gin for the cocktail. Choose your favorite, but don’t use anything out of a bathtub!
Once you have everything ready, measure and add all the ingredients to your cocktail shaker. You can see the tiny flecks of chili powder in the picture above – it’s so pretty! Now add lots of ice and shake, shake, shake until it’s really cold. I love to serve these in pretty coupe glasses, they have a vintage look that goes perfectly with this vintage cocktail!
If you’d like to try out another vintage cocktail, try The Last Word – it’s another beauty!
- ½ cup (4 oz) of gin, I like Bombay Sapphire
- ¼ cup (2 oz) honey simple syrup
- 3 tablespoons (1½ oz) of fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder or cayenne pepper (optional)
- Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker along with lots of ice.
- Shake until cold, then strain/pour into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel and enjoy!