I forget how old I was when someone told me that too much gin would make me want to fight, or cry, or both. Either way, besides a few stray Sapphire-and-tonics in my twenties, I generally avoided the stuff.
That is, until I first sipped a crisp Plymouth gin martini. And a Hendrick's gin rickey. And then, Caledonia Spirits' Barr Hill Gin. Each has its own seductive flavor profile, from juniper to coriander to (in Barr Hill's case) the faintest hint of honey.
That's probably what makes it the ideal spirit for the Bee's Knees, one of the simplest, most gorgeous cocktails in the universe, and one I'm slightly obsessed with at the moment. Gin, lemon and honey, shaken with ice and then strained, yields a golden, sour-sweet, magical thing that almost tastes good for you. The Prohibition-era mixologists who created it were either genius or eminently practical, as they surely researched myriad ways to deal with a surfeit of bathtub gin.
However, the very simplicity on which the Bee's Knees depends can also be its downfall — too much booze can make it harsh, while the honey can turn into a cold, hard mass in the shaker (as I learned when I first tried to make one). At Hourglass at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, bartenders counter this problem by using honey simple syrup, a clever twist that yields their stunning rendition (pictured), which has just the perfect sweet-tart-floral balance. (They use Barr Hill, by the way).
I've watched bartenders struggle with the honey-glop thing as I did, and then deliver overly sharp concoctions. I love the citrusy, bracing version at the Parker House Inn in Quechee, where bartender and co-owner Adam Adler also makes another alluring concoction: a blend of gin, apple cider and St. Germain that I think is called a Cider Press (details are fuzzy).
Back at the ranch, I have a small jar of honey syrup at the ready. It takes only a few moments to make — just heat equal parts water and honey until dissolved. I mix it with a small sprig of rosemary to add another layer of wintery flavor.
The Bee's Knees
2 ounces Barr Hill Gin
3/4 ounce honey simple syrup (or use a warm spoon for honey, and mix fast and furiously)
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Sprig of rosemary (optional)
Lemon peel or twist (optional)
Combine first four ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake wildly to blend, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or twist, and serve.