• Hanukkah Cocktail: The Bees Knees

    The Bees Knees.

    The Bees Knees.

    Since Hanukkah is the “Bees Knees” of holidays (“dude, eight nights of presents, not just one”), we figured it’s time for a celebratory cocktail. And the Bees Knees not only tastes good, you can make a kosher version of the cocktail….really. In all seriousness, we do have some Jewish heritage in the family and we host an annual Hanukkah dinner with homemade latkes, jelly donuts and now, this cocktail. And the Bees Knees does fit the Hanukkah theme.

    bees1bees3At first, we looked for Hanukkah cocktail themes and it was a challenge. It is a festival of lights (not that helpful, flaming tiki drinks?) and oil is a main theme (there are a few cocktails with oil, but we aren’t going there), but happily the promised land is “the land of milk and honey” so we found a theme to build from. And as it turns out, raw honey is kosher, and we have plenty of raw Putney Farm honey. Even better, you can get kosher gin from the No. 209, a San Francisco based distillery (we used Bluecoat gin in this post, but will have the No. 209 at Hanukkah dinner). And it looks like fresh lemons are kosher, and we have plenty of Meyer lemons. Hmmm…

    bees4bees5Well, guess what? You just read the recipe for a Bees Knees cocktail. The Bees Knees combines dry gin, lemon juice and honey syrup (1 to 1 very hot water and honey) and is served up or on the rocks. Created in the prohibition era, the Bees Knees is easy to make and very tasty. And if you prefer rum, a light rum version makes a Honeysuckle, a dark rum version makes a Honey Bee. Add some champagne to the Honeysuckle and you get an Airmail. If you use rye or bourbon you get a Daisy Black. So you do get four or five drinks out of the deal (it’s not eight, but five cocktails from one basic recipe isn’t too shabby).

    bees6While almost all cocktail writers have positive feelings about the Bees Knees, many describe it as “inoffensive”. But we will take some issue with that. If you use basic store-bought clover or orange blossom honey, the flavors are pretty light. But if you use raw “forest” or wildflower honey in the Bees Knees you get much deeper herbal and bitter notes. Putney Farm honey is a forest honey made mostly from wildflowers and herb blossoms, it has some herbal and minty notes with a slightly bitter and piney finish. Good stuff, and perfect with a dry earthy gin. Along with the sweet acidity of the Meyer lemons, the herbal notes of gin and forest honey make for a very substantial cocktail with layers of flavor. So we suggest you get some raw honey from a farmers market and then try the Bees Knees, it won’t be simply “inoffensive”, it will be a special cocktail and a fitting celebration of Hanukkah.

    The Bees Knees:


    • 2 oz. dry gin (No.209 kosher, if you like)
    • 1/2 oz. honey syrup* (a bit more if using Eureka lemons, rather than sweeter Meyers)
    • 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
    • Lemon wheel, for garnish


    1. Combine the gin, honey syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, coupé or flute. Garnish with the lemon wheel. Serve.

    * To make honey syrup combine equal parts honey and very hot water in a sealable container. Shake until combines. Stores in the fridge for 3-4 weeks.