Bee's Knees Recipe

A Prohibition-era cocktail designed to mask a bad gin, but delicious with a great one.

A bee's knees cocktail in a coupe.

Serious Eats / Maggie Hoffman

The Bee's Knees is a speakeasy classic, and not necessarily in a good way. Thanks to the Volstead Act, professionally manufactured booze was in short supply, leading many drinkers to turn to slapdash spirits such as the notorious bathtub gin. To mask the flavor of these noxious spirits, plenty of strong flavors and rich sweeteners were added to the cocktail shaker, resulting in some bloodcurdlingly-bad concoctions.

The Bee's Knees was among those drinks with a bad reputation, but it's easily redeemed using a decent gin and an easier hand with the shaker. As drinks writer David Embury noted in his landmark The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks in 1949:

"Early in the book I spoke in disparaging terms of the Bee's Knees. This, however, was because as it originally came out during prohibition days it consisted of equal parts lemon juice, honey, and gin. If made as a variation of the standard Gin Sour, merely substituting honey for the sugar syrup, it is acceptable."

Acceptable? Hell, it's delicious. Take a moment to mix one this weekend, if for no other reason than because you legally can.

Note: To make honey syrup, combine equal parts honey and hot water, and stir until dissolved. Keep remainder refrigerated.

Recipe Facts

Prep: 5 mins
Total: 5 mins
Serves: 1 serving

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  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce honey syrup (see note)


  1. Combine gin, lemon juice, and honey syrup in a cocktail shaker, stir briefly to dissolve honey syrup, then fill with ice. Shake well for 10 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Special equipment

Cocktail shaker, cocktail strainer