The Bees Knees is a super simple and delicious classic cocktail. Made with lemon juice, honey, and gin, it's one of those drinks you can whip up anytime without much prep work!
This Prohibition-era cocktail was created in 1921 by Frank Meier, a bartender in Paris (here's the Wikipedia page for more history). Nowadays, the catchy name makes it easy to recognize on a bar menu. It's a great drink for warm weather, but the honey also gives it a nice warm flavor that is delicious year-round.
Here's what you'll need to have on hand to make a Bees Knees:
- Honey syrup, or honey and water
- Floral or lemon bitters (optional)
This cocktail is shaken, so you'll need to grab a cocktail shaker and strainer, a knife and cutting board for the lemon, and a citrus juicer.
For the serving glass, a stemmed glass is traditional for this one. I used a Nick & Nora style glass, and this drink will fit perfectly in a 4 or 5 ounce glass.
This drink is so easy to put together! Start out by cutting your lemon in half, then juice one half of it and add the juice to your cocktail shaker.
Measure out your honey and water and add it in. If you're using pre-made honey syrup, just add the amounts together and add that much syrup (so, one ounce of syrup for this drink).
Although they're not in the classic recipe, I like to add some bitters to mine too. Floral bitters are a great choice. I think the bees would approve! These lavender bitters go perfectly with this drink.
Once everything is added, give it a stir before shaking to make sure that the honey dissolves. Then add ice, shake in your cocktail shaker, and strain it into your cocktail glass.
For a little something extra, cut a piece of lemon peel to use as a garnish.
Hint: You can use just a regular cocktail strainer (aka a Hawthorne strainer), or double strain, as I've done here. Double straining is just a nice extra if you want to make sure there's no pulp or crystallized honey left in the drink.
If you're planning on making a bunch of these cocktails, I highly recommend stirring up a batch of honey syrup beforehand. Since honey is so thick, it can sometimes take a while to fully dissolve and mix with the water (especially if it's a little crystallized).
To make this syrup, just add equal amounts of water and honey to a small saucepan. Heat the mixture on medium, stirring occasionally, until all the honey is dissolved.
Let the mixture cool completely, and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. It'll keep for a few weeks, but throw it out at any sign of mold.
There are a ton of ways to modify this drink, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Highball - Mix up the drink, then add it to a tall highball glass filled with ice, and top with tonic or seltzer.
- Change the citrus - Switch the lemon for fresh squeezed orange juice, or do a half-and-half split. You might want to lower the amount of honey if you do this, since orange juice is sweeter than lemon.
- Floral - Add some fragrant flowers, like lavender or chamomile, to your honey syrup as it heats. The flavor will infuse the syrup and the drink.
- Switch up the spirit - This is a great cocktail try out different gins, since it is so simple. You can also substitute in vodka for a more straightforward honey flavor.
- Try a different type of honey - There are all sorts of different honey types you can try. Buckwheat honey and wildflower honey both have a much stronger flavor than the standard clover honey.
Top tip - Gin types
Back in the day when this drink was developed, London Dry gin was the standard. Many modern gins are not as juniper heavy and will have a lighter flavor overall, so try a London Dry gin, like Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray, to make this cocktail as intended.
Bees Knees Cocktail
- Knife and cutting board
- Cocktail serving glass
- 1 ounce lemon juice from about ½ lemon - use your citrus juicer
- ½ ounce honey or honey syrup - see Notes
- ½ ounce water or honey syrup - see Notes
- 2 ounces gin
- 3 dashes lavender bitters optional
- Measure out the lemon juice from your citrus juicer and add it to your cocktail shaker.
- Add the honey and water (or honey syrup) to the cocktail shaker.
- Add the gin and bitters to the shaker, then stir all the ingredients to make sure the honey is dissolved.
- Add ice to the shaker and shake vigorously, about 15-20 times.
- Strain the drink into your cocktail glass.
- Optionally garnish with a lemon peel, and serve immediately.