Your new cozy best friend is here: the Ginger Bee's Knees cocktail. It's unexpected and so complexly flavored, but still approachable and simple to make at home. It's on repeat in our house all fall and winter and I'm very happy to be sharing it with you.
This cocktail is based on the Prohibition-era cocktail called "Bee's Knees", which is a gin cocktail with lemon and honey. We've gotten many Bee's Knees at one of our favorite restaurants near home, Waterworks in Winooski VT. It's a lovely drink, and the bright lemon and floral honey pair so nicely with the flavors of the gin.
However, although the Bee's Knees is great in the summer, for me it's a little too light and fresh for the colder times of the year. The colder months leave me searching for more robust, complex flavors and darker-colored alcohols. Enter my winter adaptation: the Ginger Bee's Knees. A few key swaps make this perfect for sipping in front of the fire.
There are two main changes that I've made to the classic Bee's Knees in order to make it feel right for the colder months. First, I use aged gin in place of regular. If you haven't tried aged gin before, the time is now! It's barrel-aged and develops a deep amber color and a more complex flavor profile somewhat reminiscent of whiskey or aged tequila. Second, I add homemade ginger syrup in place of some of the honey. The ginger gives it that warm, cozy, wintry feel and really complements the subtle bourbon notes that develop during the gin's time in the barrel.
These two swaps make for a cocktail that is surprisingly complex. The lemon and honey keep it light, but the ginger and aged gin make it feel right for a cold, dark night. The aged gin still maintains its identity as a gin, but it's like a gin with a fuzzy sweater on.
I can't discuss this drink without a major shout-out to a really incredible spirit made in Vermont: the Tom Cat from Barr Hill. It's an aged gin (made from honey!) that is solely responsible for changing my opinions about gin. As someone who has traditionally been a drinker of aged tequila and very aged bourbon, gin was never on my radar. I just didn't understand it. But my first sip of the Tom Cat completely changed my perspective; it created a bridge for me between aged spirits and gin. I call it my "gateway to gin". This is a really exceptional product made by great people, I highly suggest it!
Making a Simple Syrup
This cocktail relies upon two different simple syrups to get all that wonderful flavor into a drinkable form. If you've never made a simple syrup before, don't let the fancy name intimidate you! It's actually really easy to do at home, and a simple syrup keeps great in the fridge for weeks, meaning you can keep using it again and again throughout the season.
A simple syrup is just a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water, cooked down until it becomes thick and syrupy. It's a great way to capture flavors that are difficult to get into a liquid form otherwise, like fresh ginger root. That's why the simple syrup is a very powerful tool in mixology! The recipe below will walk you through making a ginger simple syrup.
The honey simple syrup is a bit different since honey is essentially just sugar to begin with. You'll see below that I recommend just heating some honey in a bit of water, just enough to get it to dissolve. Adding straight honey to a cocktail really doesn't work well since it doesn't dissolve, especially in a room-temperature or cold liquid.
Let's Talk Ingredients
Here's what you'll need for this recipe, as well as some thoughts, tips, and possible substitutions. If you make any substitutions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.
White sugar. You'll use this for making the ginger simple syrup. Using white sugar is important for the final color, so please don't try to use brown sugar, it will make your cocktail look muddy.
Fresh ginger root. Also for the ginger simple syrup. The ginger flavor is really important here, so get some good, fragrant, fresh ginger root. This definitely won't work with ginger powder.
Aged gin. See my love note to Barr Hill's Tom Cat, above. You need this in your life!
Lemon juice. Fresh-squeezed is a must.
Crystallized ginger. For garnish; not necessary, but fun.
Lemon peel. Also for garnish. You'll be juicing a lemon for this cocktail anyways, so shave off a few pieces of the peel before you cut it and juice it. You can use a peeler for flat, wide strips or a channel knife for long, thin strands as I've shown in these photos.
I love classic cocktails, and the Bee's Knees is just about as classic as you can get. Its origins date back to the 1920's, where it was supposedly invented in Paris, but then became very chic and popular in the US at prohibition-era speakeasy clubs. I think there's something so special and nostalgic about classic cocktails, but I also like finding my own ways to change them and update the flavors. This one is the best of both worlds- a classic base with a special, seasonal upgrade.
Enjoy this drink on a chilly fall, winter, or early spring evening. It pairs particularly nicely with fall foods like squash, root veggies, and apples. Bees retreat to their hives for the winter (at least in Vermont!), and this cocktail makes me feel like a fuzzy little bee, cozy in my hive.
It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.
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To make the ginger simple syrup, peel the ginger root and slice it into medallions. Combine the ginger with the water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a low boil. Cook until the mixture has reduced significantly and turned a pale golden color. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Keep an eye on it and don't let it go too far. Strain the simple syrup through a fine-mesh sieve to remove all the ginger medallions and any wayward pulp.
To make the honey simple syrup, combine the honey and 1 tbsp water in a saucepan. Heat until the honey has fully dissolved. You may need to add some additional water, depending on the texture of your honey (note that natural, crystalline honey will require more water to dissolve).
Allow the simple syrups to chill for at least several hours. They can be stored in sealed containers in the refrigerator for weeks.
To make the cocktail, combine the aged gin, ginger simple syrup, honey simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, taste, and adjust as you see fit; you can add more simple syrup for additional sweetness or more lemon juice for additional acidity.
Strain into a small serving glass with ice, then garnish with a piece of crystallized ginger and lemon peel.