Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Bees Knees

Since I seem to be on a gin kick as of late, I've decided to make a classic cocktail from the Roaring 20's which contains Gin as the base spirit known as The Bees Knees. To be perfectly honest with you, I don't know when exactly this cocktail was created. Everything I seem to find online and in books states that it is from the Roaring 20's. The era is significant since this cocktail seems to be flavored in a certain manner as to mask the taste of the cheap bathtub gin that was being made in illegally during the Prohibition era. The blog page Savoy Stomp: Stomping Through the Savoy Cocktail Book, Erik Ellestad (@ellestad) has an interesting history behind which bartender it was believed to be the first to publish the recipe for the Bees Knees in their respective cocktail books. In addition, two recipes seem be the prominent ones used.

One is from the book Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix Them by William T. "Wild Bill" Boothby. The recipe in Boothy's book called for:
1 oz (2 tbsp) honey simple syrup
¾ oz (1 ½ tbsp) gin
½ oz (1 tbsp) freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ oz (1 tbsp) freshly squeezed orange juice
Combine 2 tbsp of the honey simple syrup (use less for a less sweet drink), gin, lemon juice and orange juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a small chilled cocktail glass and serve.
The second recipe as described by Ellestad is from Trader Vic's 1947 Bartending Guide:
1 oz Gin
Juice 1/4 Lemon
1 tsp. Honey

Shake with crushed ice; strain into cocktail glass.
It would seem to me that the first one indeed masks the Gin since there is so much of the honey syrup combined with the juices as opposed to so little of the Gin. That's a count and a half of Gin by today's standards of three to four counts (1.5oz to 2oz). The second one comes closer to modern proportions of ingredients.

Most websites have the modern version with two ounces of Gin instead of the three quarters or one ounce of Gin in the aforementioned recipes. In addition, one version contains orange juice, one does not. It seems that modern bartenders have chosen to use the version with more Gin and chose to either use or omit the orange juice. To me this meant that I needed to make both versions (with and without orange juice) and see which one I liked the best. I made the version without orange juice first since I did not have any fresh oranges at home. Honey syrup is made with equal parts of honey and water, simmered and left to cool. Here is the recipe for the first cocktail:
The Bees Knees #1
2oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
0.5 oz of Fresh Lemon Juice
0.75oz of Honey Syrup

Build over ice in shaker, double strain into a champagne glass.
I double strained the cocktail since I used fresh squeezed lemon juice that had a seed or two and some pulp remaining. This cocktail somewhat bears a resemblance to Trader Vic's version since the proportions seem to be double for the Gin and Lemon juice. The honey syrup portion is bumped up much higher though Trader Vic's recipe calls for straight honey while this one uses honey syrup.

I found this cocktail to be somewhat tart. Not the expected flavor that many people online seemed to describe as "Too sweet". I can only imagine how tart Trader Vic's version was with less honey/sweetner than my cocktail had. I found that I had to raise the amount of honey syrup to one ounce. That seemed to neutralize the tartness somewhat but I found that it was still unbalanced. On to cocktail number two with orange juice.
The Bees Knees #2
2oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
0.5 oz of Fresh Lemon Juice
0.5 oz of Fresh Orange Juice
0.75oz of Honey Syrup

Build over ice in shaker, double strain into a champagne glass.
Again, I used the double strainer method to strain out any extra pulp that was contained in the orange and lemon juices. I prefer the version with the orange juice than the one without. I find that this one plays better with my palate I find that the orange juice helps to balance out the tartness in the cocktail while not adding much in the way of sweetness. If I was to make this at work, I would definitely use the version with orange juice than without.

For my next post, I came up with a variation on the Bees Knees known as the Shōga Mitsubachi Hiza. Want to know what's in that cocktail? Then you need to come back and read the next post when it is published tomorrow. ;)

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla
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