The Bees Knees: A Prohibition-era Cocktail You Don't Have to Hide

The Bees Knees is:

A. A saying from the 1920's meaning "the height of excellence."

B. A Prohibition-era cocktail.

C. A drink made with honey to mask the smell of liquor.

D. All of the above.

If you answered "D," you're correct.

The Bees Knees is an excellent Prohibition-era cocktail made from three simple ingredients: gin, lemon, and honey. The honey used initially to hide the smell of alcohol, which, during Prohibition, was, er, prohibited.

It's the bees knees
It's the bees knees
Photo credit: Eric Alperin

The first mention of the drink occurs in David Embury's 1948, "The Fine Art Of Mixing Drinks," but popular opinion has it the libation was created about twenty years earlier.

Our recipe, courtesy of Rachel Kuryan at Joe Barkeeper in Silverlake, is from "Boothby's 1934 Reprint World Drinks and How To Mix Them." The author's bio further elucidates why we chose it: "This book was written by Cocktail Bill Boothby. Once a minstrel performer, then San Francisco bartender and author of American Bar-tender, then finally a California assemblyman."


Makes 1 drink

Note: The orange juice is optional. Bars in Los Angeles and New York that serve The Bees Knees omit it.

1/2 jigger of gin

1 spoonful of freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1 spoonful of freshly-squeezed orange juice

1 spoonful of honey

1. Combine all the ingredients and shake well with ice. Strain into a glass.

Note: When made as directed, the honey often forms into a giant ball in the middle of the shaker. To avoid this, combine three parts honey to one part hot water and stir together until completely mixed, then continue with the recipe.


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