Bee’s Knee

The phrase “Bee’s Knee” made its debut in the 18th century, serving as a whimsical synonym for something exceedingly small. After all, bees do indeed sport rather petite knees, making the expression quite fitting.

Curiously, it vanished from everyday language, only to make a comeback in the early 20th century, albeit with an entirely different connotation – referring to something that doesn’t exist at all. This resurgence joined the ranks of other popular expressions from the era, like ‘the cat’s pajamas’ and ‘the snake’s hips,’ all signifying something utterly non-existent, which, truth be told, didn’t quite align with logic, as bees indeed possess knees, albeit diminutive ones, in abundance.

However, in the early 1920s, the meaning of “Bee’s Knee” underwent yet another transformation, becoming synonymous with something remarkable or astonishing. It’s as if the very essence of a bee’s knee had enchanted the individual who first breathed life into this new interpretation.

During this same period, a cocktail by the same name emerged onto the scene, conjured by the brilliant and charismatic Frank Meier. Born in Austria and honing his bartending skills at the famed New York’s Hoffman House Hotel, Meier found himself at the cusp of Prohibition in the United States. It’s possible that the idea for the Bee’s Knee cocktail germinated during his final year in the USA, mirroring the typical offspring of the Prohibition era. During those years, people devised sophisticated means to mask the harsh taste of illicitly crafted spirits, ultimately birthing a plethora of elegant cocktails when quality spirits returned to the market. However, the Bee’s Knee didn’t linger; in 1921, Frank Meier ventured back to Europe and assumed the role of head bartender at the renowned Hotel Ritz in Paris. Almost immediately, he unveiled the Bee’s Knee, soon followed by a host of his other creations, many of which are now regarded as cocktail classics. In 1935, Meier published a concise compendium of his finest concoctions titled “The Artistry of Mixing Drinks.”

During the dark days of Nazi occupation in Paris, Meier, despite being Jewish, remained in the city, continuing his work at the Ritz Hotel, which had been transformed into Nazi headquarters. Amidst these treacherous times, he secretly aided the French resistance and British spies, saving countless lives. The exact number remains unknown, but his bravery is undoubted.

Returning to his delightful creation, the Bee’s Knee is essentially an elevated gin sour (comprising gin, lemon juice, and sugar). Meier’s ingenious twist involved substituting sugar with honey, rendering the cocktail softer, less sweet, and imbuing it with a more intricate aroma. A delightful note: experimenting with various types of honey can help you discover your personal preference for this classic cocktail.

Recipe from “The Artistry of Mixing Drinks.”

-2 oz/ 60 ml London Dry Gin
-3/4 oz/22.5 ml fresh lemon Juice
-teaspoon/5 ml Honey

You can use Honey syrup (1:1 honey and water), it is easy to dissolve. In this case – two teaspoons.

Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker over ice and shake. Strain into the chilled cocktail glass and enjoy.

Garnish –lemon zest (optional).


Cocktail glass

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