I came across the idea for this recipe whilst reading a book on the origins (and myths) of poplar words and phrases.
The phrase “The Bee’s Knees” originated during Prohibition – it’s use is first recorded in a flappers dictionary in the Appleton Post-Crescent of Appleton, Missouri on 28th April 1922 and it was defined and meaning ‘peachy, very nice’ – well that gave me the foundations for my twist.
The cocktail of the same name is known to have emerged during Prohibition too – it was obviously named for the new phrase and compared to a lot of the rough drinks being bandied around at the time, probably did taste like the Bee’s Knees, or indeed the Cat’s Pyjamas or yes, the clam’s garter.
Once the hangover of the ‘noble experiment’ had eased, the drink was perhaps not as good when made with professionally distilled spirit and consumed without the cloud of illegality overhead. In his 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury proclaimed Prohibition had birthed “such pernicious recipes as the Alexander – equal parts of gin, crème de cacao, and sweet cream; the Orange Blossom – equal parts of gin and orange juice, with or without the white of an egg; the Bee’s Knees – equal parts gin, lemon juice and honey; and so on ad nauseam”
The drinks was described as such in it’s original format of equal parts gin, honey and lemon but later in the book, concedes that when made in the ratio of a classic Gin Sour “merely substituting honey for the sugar syrup, it is acceptable.”
He also goes on to say that “the addition of a small amount of orange juice… Makes an interesting variation.”
This is the recipe that Ted Haigh pick up in his Vintage Cocktails and Spirits but at some point it has been given a name – The Bebbo Cocktail.
In the book, Dr Cocktail scoffs that despite the stupid name, the Bebbo Cocktail has at least merited a page therein whereas the Bee’s Knees “remains justly, nowhere to be found.”
I guess no-one is a fan of the original Bee’s Knees then?!
Don’t you believe it – the rise of the throwback to Prohibition-era drinks and the increasing use of honey as an ingredient has seen the Bee’s Knees actually become quite a common drink albeit in the Gin Sour ratio that Embury recommends. The use of different honeys and other herbs as modifiers (try using clover honey and a pinch of fresh thyme!) has created delicious variations found on drinks lists all around the world.
My own version is a slight modification of the Bebbo simply using peach juice instead of the orange (a nod to that first definition of Bee’s Knees meaning peachy)
50 ml The king of Soho Gin
30ml Lemon Juice
15ml Honey Water*
10ml Peach Juice
Shake well and double strain into a chilled coupette
Garnish with a twist of lemon (and maybe some honeycomb if you have it)
*Whenever you use honey in a drink, when you put it in the shaker, once you’ve added all the liquid ingredients, give it a stir until it has fully dissolved before adding ice and shaking otherwise it won’t become a part of the drink. Better still, you can dissolve the honey in hot water first and add it to the drink already in liquid form.