The Bees Knees cocktail first came about during prohibition. Originally, the Bees Knees recipe called for bathtub gin, lemon, and honey.
Like most prohibition era cocktails, sugar, honey, herbs, and other flavorings were added to bootleg alcohol to mask its horrendous taste. Luckily for us, some really lovely concoctions came out of that era.
Like the recipe below, most establishments with Bees Knees on their drink menu replaced the gin with bourbon and ginger beer. This is an easy cocktail to make with only a few simple ingredients.
If you prefer gin or bourbon, simply make this libation with gin, lemon juice, honey, and ginger beer.
How to Make a Bees Knees Cocktail
- Put 1 teaspoon honey in your glass
- Fill a chilled cocktail glass with ice
- Pour in 1-2 oz. of your favorite bourbon
- Top with ginger beer, a squeeze of lemon, stir and enjoy!
- Optional: garnish with a lemon twist
#1 Secret to making a Bees Knees Cocktail Perfectly
I first ran across this at the Gamblin Whiskey Bar in the Central West End in St. Louis. (Now closed 😢) What they did to their Bees Knees was mind blowing!
It’s so simple but it completely transforms the cocktail while you’re drinking it. They make giant ice cubes from water and honey simple syrup.
This literally changes the cocktail as you drink it. When you first sip it, it has strong botanical overtones with a touch of heat but by the end you have a refreshing drink with a sweet finish. Brilliant!
Or… you can make your own crystal clear ice with just an insulated thermos. So cool!
Warning: do NOT attempt to cut the ice like Carver does in this video… pretty scary. The method for making the ice is spot on! But the cutting… yikes.
Regardless of what quality bourbon or whiskey you use, try to find the best ginger beer you can. It’s an element that really adds a special zip in this Bee’s Knees recipe.
Also if you’d rather enjoy this refreshing beverage sans alcohol, it is just as good without the spirit. Simply squeeze some lemon into your ginger beer and stir in a spoonful of honey. Voila!
What’s in a name?
The saying “it’s the bee’s knees” is a term coined during the roaring 20’s meaning something was the best. Given that this is a really tasty drink and it has honey in it, the name is a good fit.
Other Tasty Libations
If you enjoyed this cocktail, check these others. A Sinatra Smash is bright, fresh and a little fruity. In order not to get any seeds in your drink, make sure you strain it into a chilled glass after giving it a good shake in a cocktail shaker!
And a Blood and Sand is smooth and smokey with notes of earthy peat and dark orange. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a Friday night sunset.
Summer’s last hurrah
The bees have been busy all summer long collecting pollen and making honey. Personally, I think enjoying a Bee’s Knees is the perfect way to toast their long season of hard work now that autumn is upon us. Enjoy!
Bee’s Knees Cocktail Recipe
This is a refreshing drink just as tasty without the alcohol. The ginger beer gives it a good bit of botanical spice and the lemon really brightens it up.
- 1 jigger bourbon
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1-2 wedges lemon
- 4-6 ounces ginger beer
Put honey in the bottom of your glass.
Fill glass with ice.
Pour bourbon over ice.
Top off with ginger beer and squeeze in lemon. Stir and enjoy.
I like my Bee’s Knees like this because the honey isn’t immediately incorporated into the cocktail. It slowly dissolves and sweetens the drink as you enjoy it. It’s also faster to make it this way and I don’t have to wash the shaker.
Variation for an immediately sweeter Bee’s Knee: Pour all ingredients into cocktail shaker except lemon wedges. Fill with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour into glass filled with ice. Squeeze lemon wedge to finish.