Bee’s Knees

Warning! Dangerous Cocktail Geekery Ahead!

The other day I got a text from Erik Adkins, “What do you know about the Bee’s Knees?”

I responded: I know it isn’t a Savoy Cocktail, most people say it is a Prohibition Era Cocktail, and the earliest recipe I know of is from the 1947 “Bartender’s Guide…by Trader Vic”.

Bee’s Knee (sic)

1 oz Gin
Juice 1/4 Lemon
1 tsp. Honey

Shake with crushed ice; strain into cocktail glass.

I said I’d check further and see what I could come up with.

Now my general assumption has always been that the 1947 “Bartender’s Guide…by Trader Vic” used Patrick Gavin Duffy’s 1934 “Official Mixer’s Manual” as it’s source for prohibition and pre-prohibition cocktails.

So I checked P.G. Duffy, but it had no Bee’s Knee. Or Bee’s Knees for that matter.


Well, thinking about it, there were actually 3 big cocktail compendiums published just prior to prohibition in America: “Savoy Cocktail Book”, PG Duffy’s “Official Mixer’s Manual”, and “Cocktail” Bill Boothby’s “World Drinks and How to Mix Them”.

San Francisco Bartender William Boothby is interesting, in that he was a cocktail author that spanned pre-prohibition and post-prohibition cocktail publishing. His first books were published before 1900 and his magnum pre-prohbition opus published in 1908.

Unfortunately, the plates, and most of the original copies of his pre-prohibition publications were destroyed in the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

After Prohibition, in 1930 he again got into the publishing business with his “World Drinks and How to Mix Them”.

As with other author’s, his goal was to compile as many of the the pre-prohibition and prohibition era cocktail recipes as he could find into the same book. Concentrate all the knowledge in one big book.

On a practical level, I imagine all these authors walking into a publishing office with a big stack of pre-prohibition cocktail manuals and saying, “Here’s my book, just transcribe these. I’ll write the introduction. Thanks for the check, I prefer cash. Have you heard of a little something called the Depression?”

Or, well, in Craddock’s case, not even that. “Here’s a quote for your introduction. You’re the writer, make me sound good.”

So I checked my 1934 edition of home-boy Boothby’s recipe book for the Bee’s Knees Cocktail.


Bee’s Knees

Gin…1/2 Jigger
Lemon…1 Spoon
Orange…1 Spoon
Honey…1 Spoon

Shake well with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve.

Huh, wow, could it be that the Bee’s Knees, one of the signature cocktails of the modern craft cocktail movement, originated on the West Coast? Well, either that, or it was in some unknown book in Boothby’s collection, which neither Craddock nor PG Duffy had access to. I guess it is worth noting that Boothby was a West Coast bartender, while both Duffy and Craddock plied their trade in the metropolitan areas of the East Coast. I also sent a note to Greg Boehm, and he confirmed Boothby was the earliest Bee’s Knees recipe he knew of.

Interestingly, this seems to indicate that Trader Vic, instead of using PG Duffy for his source for pre-prohibition cocktails, was actually using Boothby’s “World Drinks and How to Mix Them”. West Coast represent!

Boy, an interesting exercise would be to find out which cocktails were unique to all three of these classic cocktail compendiums.

It might give us more insight into which cocktails were actually Craddock’s, which cocktails were Boothby’s, and which were rightly claimed by PG Duffy.

Now, the prohibition era Bee’s Knees is often excoriated as being a disgustingly sweet concoction, only created to hide the flavor of bathtub booze with honey and lemon.

These early recipes both seem to give lie to that theory; they are heavy on the gin and far lighter on the honey and lemon that any modern cocktail would be.

Here’s a modern recipe for the Bee’s Knees from a website:

Bee’s Knees

2 oz Gin
3/4 oz Honey Syrup
1/2 oz Lemon Juice

Shake with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and serve.

Seems like modern cocktail makers, not prohibition era bartenders, are the ones playing, “Hide the Gin”.


Update with even more cocktail geekery!

I was chatting with Camper English in the Mixo Bar and he mentioned that he also had recently been researching the Bee’s Knees Cocktail.

He mentioned that Jared and Anistasia Miller (of Mixellany, Slow Drinks, and EUVS fame) had claimed that the oldest recipe for the Bee’s Knees was from Frank Meier’s “The Artistry of Mixing Drinks”.

It’s not a book I am super familiar with, so I dug out my Cocktail Kingdom reprint and checked. Indeed there is a Bee’s Knees in Mr. Meier’s Book.

Frank Meier was the head bartender at the Ritz Paris during Prohibition and published his book, “The Artistry of Mixing Drinks” in 1936.  A very influential man in the circles of European Bartending.

His recipe for the Bee’s Knees is as follows:

Bee’s Knees

In shaker: the juice of one-quarter Lemon, a teaspoon of Honey, one-half glass of Gin; shake well and serve.

As this is nearly the Trader Vic recipe verbatim, I think I am going to have to rescind my previous assumption that Mr. Bergeron was using Boothby for a source. Bummer for West Coast Solidarity. He was probably having Meier transcribed, not Boothby, and it was probably Vic’s plagiarizing of the Meier recipe that went on to launch a thousand gin sours sweetened with honey.

On the other hand, Boothby did beat Meier to the punch by publishing a Bee’s Knees recipe in 1930 and again in 1934.

Half right, half wrong. Not bad.

Now I’m gonna have to do a taste test between Bee’s Knees with Orange Juice and without.

Twin Six Cocktail

Twin Six Cocktail
1 Dash Grenadine. (2.5ml or 1/2 tsp Small Hand Foods Grenadine)
4 Dashes Orange Juice. (10ml or 2 tsp Orange Juice)
The White of 1 Egg. (1/2 oz Egg White)
1/4 Italian Vermouth. (1/2 oz Carpano Antica)
3/4 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Ransom Old Tom Gin)
Shake well and strain into medium size glass.
I can think of no reason, other than sheer perversity, and a burning question about how the Ransom Old Tom would work in an egg white drink, that I decided to mix up the Twin Six with that gin. There is no way this recipe, originally from Hugo Ensslin’s 1917 book, “Recipes for Mixed Drinks” could possibly be interpreted to include Old Tom.

The name, it appears, referred to a 12 Cylinder engine which the American Auto manufacturer Packard introduced in 1916.

From an article on Driving Today, Packard Twin Six:

The American public went wild over the Twin Six, which they saw as further proof that the United States was the best car-building nation on Earth. When the car was first put on display, some dealers had to call in the police to handle the curious throngs wanting to see the wondrous V-12 engine.

If the Twin Six Engine was noted for it’s, “smooth acceleration in high gear and sufficient power to propel some of the models to 70 mph,” the Twin Six Cocktail could be considered similar in many ways. A relatively strong cocktail, for a sour, it is mostly just the egg white and touch of Italian Vermouth which are smoothing over the power of the gin. I would definitely call this a “deceptively drinkable” cocktail.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Twelve Miles Out Cocktail

Twelve Miles Out Cocktail
1/3 Bacardi Rum. (3/4 oz Vale d’ Paul Aguardiente Nove de Santo Antao)
1/3 Swedish Punch. (3/4 oz Underhill Punsch)
1/3 Calvados. (3/4 oz Monteuil Calvados Reserve)
Shake (I stirred) well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze orange peel on top.

When my friend Stephen Shellenberger (aka Boston Apothecary) was in town, he stopped by Heaven’s Dog for a drink.  As if a visit from this young drink visionary weren’t enough, he also brought in a couple bottles of Rum from Cape Verde called “Vale d’ Paul Aguardiente Nove de Santo Antao” for me to try.

At the time, I wasn’t really drinking, so didn’t get much of a chance to appreciate the gift.  But I was struck by the similarity of the Aguardiente to Agricole Style Rums.

A few nights later, Michael Lazar (aka Mr. Manhattan) stopped by, so I gave him a taste of the Aguardiente. Interestingly, he had first been introduced to Agricole Style Rums in Guadalupe, and really enjoyed them.  Since that time, he had tried many Agricole Rums from Martinique, but never quite gotten the same kick out of the Martinique Rum that he had gotten out of the Rums from Guadalupe.  The leaner nature of the Martinique Rums just didn’t jive with his memory of the fruity, delicious rums of Guadalupe. The Vale d’ Paul Aguardiente, he thought, was closer to the style of Rums he remembered from that Caribbean Island.

When I was trying to think of an interesting drink to use the in the Twelve Miles out, it was exactly that fruity character that I thought would match well with the Calvados in this drink.

For a mostly booze drink, this isn’t bad.  It should be almost as cold as you can possibly get it, or it will seem too sweet, but it is kind of nice. The Calvados, Rum, and Punch really mesh into something else which is quite interesting, yet at the same time all the elements are present and available.  The aroma from a generous piece of orange peel is definitely a critical element.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Tuxedo Cocktail (No. 2)

Tuxedo Cocktail (No. 2)
1 Dash Maraschino. (2.5ml or 1/2 tsp Luxardo Maraschino)
1 Dash Absinthe. (2.5ml or 1/2 tsp Greenway Distiller’s Absinthe)
2 Dashes Orange Bitters. (1 Dash Angostura Orange Bitters)
1/2 Dry Gin. (1 oz Ransom Old Tom Gin)
1/2 French Vermouth. (1 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth or Sutton Cellars Vermouth)
Shake (I stirred) well and strain into cocktail glass. Add a cherry. Squeeze lemon peel on top.

Interestingly, in “Barflies and Cocktails”, Harry McElhone calls for “Sir R. Burnett’s Old Tom Gin” in this cocktail.

Well, that give me an excuse to use a more interesting Gin! Yay, Ransom!

Aside from using the Ransom, this is a much more interesting cocktail, even if it is just a Martinez with French Vermouth. The Maraschino and the Orange Bitters really pump up the volume of the somewhat plain “Tuxedo No. 1”.

The Sutton vs. Noilly test was not so obvious with the Tuxedo Cocktail No. 2. I tasted the two cocktails, then put them into the fridge for Michele to taste when she got home. When we tasted them, I could tell they were different, but had a hard time deciding which was which, or which I preferred. I believe Michele even said she preferred the Sutton Cellars version this time. Basically, I think the more intense gin, bitters, liqueurs, and Absinthe just plowed the vermouth under.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Tuxedo Cocktail (No. 1)

Tuxedo Cocktail (No. 1)
1 Piece Lemon Peel. (1 Piece Lemon Peel)
2 Dashes Absinthe. (2 Dash Lucid Absinthe)
1/2 French Vermouth. (1 oz Noilly Prat Dry or 1 oz Sutton Cellars)
1/2 Dry Gin. (1 oz Tanqueray Gin)
Shake (I stirred) well and strain into cocktail glass.

For two weeks I thought I probably had cancer, now I am told I probably don’t. Lucky again.

Spend a couple weeks worrying and then it is just supposed to go away. Never mind about that. “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Doesn’t seem quite that easy to get over.

A second chance?

When my Dad had his heart attack, he viewed the life he came back to as a gift. Everything after nearly dying was a bonus.

While my situation was nowhere near that dramatic, nor as dramatic as someone who recovers from Cancer, still, it provokes some thought about the direction of your life.

The Tuxedo is a Martini with a dash of Absinthe, Period.

As such, it is a fairly enjoyable cocktail, if you enjoy Martinis and Absinthe, as I do.

Mrs. Flannestad and I again performed the Noilly vs. Sutton Cellars blind experiment and found we preferred the Noilly in the cocktail. Your Mileage may vary.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Turf Cocktail

Turf Cocktail
2 Dashes Orange Bitters. (2 Dash Angostura Orange Bitters)
2 Dashes Maraschino. (2 Dash Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur)
2 Dashes Absinthe. (2 Dash Lucid Absinthe)
1/2 French Vermouth. (1 oz Noilly Prat Dry or 1 oz Sutton Cellars Vermouth)
1/2 Plymouth Gin. (1/2 oz Junipero, 1/2 oz Genevieve)
Shake (I stirred) well and strain into cocktail glass.

I was reading a post over at Ummamimart about Perucchi Vermouth, which we sadly do not have in the Bay Area, and I noticed that Payman had mentioned Sutton Cellars Vermouth in a comment.

Later in the comment thread, Carl Sutton chimed in with some corrections.

Thinking about it, I realized I had never really given the old college try to using the Sutton Cellars Vermouth in Savoy Cocktails.

So I thought I’d pick up a fresh bottle of Sutton Cellars and a fresh bottle of Noilly Prat Dry and put them up against each other in cocktails.

The Turf Cocktail, which Robert Vermeire attributes to “Harry Johnson, New Orleans,” is actually one of my all time favorite aromatic Gin cocktails.  As usual, this is a combination of Gin and Dry Vermouth with a couple dashes of this and that.  In this case the this is Absinthe and the that is Maraschino Liqueur.  Like the Imperial Cocktail, this transforms a simple Fifty-Fifty Martini into something completely other.

Not relying on my own taste, I also ran both of these past Mrs. Flannestad in a blind tasting, even though aromatic gin cocktails are not her favorite.  The general consensus was, in the case of the Turf Cocktail, we preferred the cocktail made with Noilly Prat Dry to the one with Sutton Cellars.   While the Noilly Turf was balanced and smooth, the Sutton Cellars Turf seemed to have a tart character which overshadowed the other elements in the drink.

Didn’t hear from the specialist for a few days, so finally, two days before the Biopsy, I call the office to ask about my test results. The Doctor isn’t in, but the nurse tells me the numbers from one of the tests was “abnormal” .  I should still plan on coming in for the biopsy.


This was a pretty big let down. Needless to say, it put me in a pretty bad mood.

The morning of the appointment, I got ready as advised (don’t ask,) and Michele gave me a ride to the office. It was in one of the depressingly dingy San Francisco Kaiser offices, which always seem to be in some form of remodeling or another and filled with sick, or otherwise mutilated, senior citizens.

The nurse takes me to the office and tells me to take off my clothes and put on the surgical gown.

I sit in the office, mostly naked, shivering, for about 20 minutes, contemplating surgical devices which don’t look like they would have been out of place in the David Cronenberg film “Dead Ringers”. I eye the specimen jars with my name on them.

Finally, the Doctor finally comes in. He tells me they just got back some more blood results, and, in fact, my numbers are “normal”. In line with my results the year before. We don’t have to proceed with the biopsy, just keep an eye on this for the future.

Stunned and confused, I say, “Uh, What?”

“You can put your clothes back on and leave.”

“Uh, thanks. OK.”

As I’m leaving, the nurse says, “You got lucky today. I hope your numbers stay low.”

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Tulip Cocktail

Tulip Cocktail
1/6 Lemon Juice. (1/2 of 3/4 oz Lem, err, I was out of lemons, so Lime Juice)
1/6 Apricot Brandy. (1/2 of 3/4 oz Brizard Apry)
1/3 Italian Vermouth. (3/4 oz Carpano Antica Vermouth)
1/3 Calvados or Apple Brandy. (3/4 oz Montreuil Reserve Calvados)
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Well, as you might imagine, getting that sort of news isn’t super great for moderation or abstention. Not that I am making excuses.

Scheduled an appointment with the Specialist, and set about worrying.

Is this the end of my ridiculous string of luck? Payback for years of playing?

Should I be compiling lists of all my passwords and getting my keys together for Michele?

Why am I working 6 days a week, when I could be spending that time with my loved ones?

Dammit, why don’t I have a big pile of savings or insurance? By this time in his life, my Dad had created a huge pile of insurance pay outs, property and savings, in the event of his untimely demise. What have I managed to save? Pretty much nothing.

Moody would definitely be the way to describe me during this period. Sorry about that, if I ran into you and was even less garrulous than usual. Probably, maudlin and/or drunk, never a great combo.

As noted by Charles McCabe in his book, “The Good Man’s Weakness”:

My advice would be Chesterton’s: “Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.” I’ve not always followed this counsel; but wish I had more often.

When you are on a real downer, chop some wood, paint some tables, anything so long as it’s a job. Drink when you’re filled with self-pity, and the next thing you’re drinking to get yourself through your work. Then, brother, you’re headed for trouble.

Go visit the Specialist, still no real bad news. He takes some more blood for more tests. Won’t know the answers to those tests for a week or so, but to be on the safe side, based on the previous test results and my family history, we schedule a biopsy for the next week.

The Tulip Cocktail is, in fact, quite delicious. It’s really nothing but a kind of an elaboration of the Jack Rose. Given that one of Michele’s favorite cocktails is the Jack Rose, I had her sample this, and she approved. I was surprised that the Carpano Antica worked in a sour. Unusual.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.