The Bee's Knees cocktail, a snazzy blend of gin, zesty lemon juice, and sweet honey, is one of the Prohibition-era drinks that remains relevant even in 2023. Yet, its origin is shrouded in mystery. One story claims that it germinated from the creative mind of Frank Meier, an Austrian-born bartender in Paris. Meier, the inaugural head bartender at the Café Parisian in the Ritz Hotel since its 1921 debut, is credited with concocting numerous cocktails, including the Bee’s Knees.
In an alternative tale of Bee's Knees origins, the invention is credited to the legendary 'unsinkable Molly Brown.' Known by the moniker due to her survival of the Titanic disaster in 1912, Molly Brown, or formally Margaret Tobin Brown, was the affluent widow of a gold miner, splitting her time between Denver and Paris. According to an April 1929 piece in the Brooklyn Standard Union, highlighting the rising trend of women-only bars in Paris, it was asserted that Brown, a regular at these establishments, was the mastermind behind the creation of the Bee's Knees gin cocktail.
The earliest printed documentation of the drink’s recipe appeared only in the late 1940s, with its mention in David Embury’s 1948 encyclopaedia of cocktails The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
Gin cocktails were all the rage back in the Prohibition era. The reason? The ease with which amateur distillers could craft gin. They whipped up a concoction dubbed "bathtub gin," famous for its punch and scathing taste. To mellow out the intensity, mixologists frequently turned to citrus flavours like lemon and lime. This zesty strategy gave birth to classics like the Gin Rickey, the French 75, and the Southside – all using citrus to temper the robust flavour of homemade gin.
According to beverage historians, the addition of honey in the classic cocktail was also a clever cover-up for the not-so-impressive quality of gin during the Prohibition era. Moreover, the overwhelming flavour and perfume of honey made it tricky for law enforcement to pick up any telltale signs of alcohol.
The drink’s name may have been a nod to its primary flavouring agent. Or it could have been derived from the popular 'bee's knees' slang of the Prohibition era. The term likely originated in the 18th century as a way to describe something that didn't actually exist, or were considered ‘the best’. Coincidentally, this era also saw the emergence of similar phrases like 'the cat's pajamas' and 'the cat's whiskers,' essentially conveying the same idea as 'the bee's knees.'
To whip up a classic Bee's Knees, one needs to shake gin, honey, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice until frost forms. The mix can then be poured into a martini glass, primed and ready for sipping.
Add the gin, lemon juice and honey syrup into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.