In the Shaker: Reintroducing the Bee's Knees

When researching 100 cocktails, you're bound to stumble across a sensational story. Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller think it's time to be reintroduced to the Bee's Knees


In order to research Sip: 100 Gin Cocktails with Only Three Ingredients, I, Jared, scoured old cocktail books and newspaper archives. When you research classics, it is fairly rare to make a breakthrough discovery, but with 100 cocktails there were bound to be a few.

However, I never anticipated finding the heretofore undocumented origins of one of the greatest Prohibition and classic gin cocktails—the Bee’s Knees.

Wikipedia, and just about every other source, claims that the Bee’s Knees was born somewhere in the USA during the Prohibition era. The catch-all phrase '… to cover the bad taste of bathtub gin...’ was a common justification for its invention. Then I found a 1929 article – a 22 April 1929 Standard Union article from Brooklyn, NY, page two, to be precise – about a new phenomenon in Parisian nightlife: 'women’s bars’ where men were prohibited.

The second to last paragraph read: 'The “Bee’s Knees” is an invention of Mrs.JJ Brown of Denver and Paris, widow of the famous miner, and is a rather sweet combination including honey and lemon.’ Rather sweet? Clearly the drink was made by the wrong bartender.

WHAT WE’RE DRINKING

Erik Lorincz was on our radar even before he inherited the mantle of head bartender at the American Bar at the legendary Savoy Hotel. Now presiding over his own establishment, Kwãnt, under Momo restaurant in Mayfair, he is crafting concoctions that command you to sit back, relax and savour both the liquid and
the atmosphere. Start with his Sunflower Martini stirred with Hendrick’s Gin, Cocchi Americano and Noilly Prat Dry infused with Jerusalem artichokes, and then slip into his Coff ee Negroni stirred with Tanqueray No Ten, Cocchi di Torino, Campari and coffee aroma.

But who was Mrs JJ Brown? A quick search turned up results for a Colorado gold miner named JJ Brown. This first-generation, Pennsylvania-born Irish-American hit what was adjudged at the time as the world’s richest gold strike.

Yet the research became even simpler, because every contemporary biography of Mr Brown devotes the majority of its content to his even more famous wife, Margaret Tobin, making that 1929 article a bit of an understatement.

JJ Brown married Margaret in 1866. He was 31, she was 19; they lived in a log cabin in Colorado. Fast forward a few decades, past one huge gold strike, a marital separation and the participation in one of the most memorable tragedies of the 20th century, and she transformed into The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Her life – especially the part where she survived the disaster on the Titanic – spawned a 1960 Broadway musical and a companion book; a 1964 film starring Debbie Reynolds; as well as countless other portrayals in cinema and television, including the one by Kathy Bates in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic.

BEE’S KNEES
Adapted from Mrs JJ Brown, c1929

Glass Cocktail
Garnish None
Method Combine ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

50ml gin
25ml fresh lemon juice
25ml 1:1 honey syrup

It makes far more sense that a great drink would have been associated with a merry widow socialite partying in Paris than with the unnamed speakeasy where it was invented, remembered specifically because of the bad gin.

Besides, this article dates back to when she was alive and could have easily refuted such a claim, a risk no journalist really wants to take. So there it is: gin, honey and lemon met in a Parisian bar frequented by wealthy
Americans during Prohibition. Was it The Ritz? Harry’s? Every answer we find inevitably leads to more questions.

BEE'S TEASE
Adapted by Jared Brown, 2017

Glass Cocktail
Garnish None
Method Combine ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. If cold tea is used, keep the shake short, around 10 seconds. If tea ice cubes are used, give
the drink a longer shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


50ml gin
25ml fresh lemon juice
25ml 1:1 honey syrup
50ml chilled Assam tea, or tea frozen into cubes

With three balanced and subtle ingredients, the Bee’s Knees is a remarkable foundation that has nurtured variation.

One night upstairs at Balthazar, London, I was hosting a large group and thought I had nearly lost my voice. Before
they arrived, I set up a pot of Assam tea, with honey and lemon and asked the bartender to shake this over ice, strain it into a chilled cocktail glass and serve it to me whenever my glass ran empty. I thought this would soothe my throat and keep me out of trouble – until the third one arrived and it dawned on me how much better the drink would be with a measure of gin. Thus, the Bee’s Tease was born.

Then, during a recent guest stint at the Jerry Thomas Speakeasy in Rome, I was feeling festive and floated a double
measure of champagne onto a Bee’s Knees. I had one. I served one to a guest. Then another and another: The Bubble Bee became the evening’s hot drink.

BUBBLE BEE
Adapted by Jared Brown, 2018

Glass Cocktail
Garnish None
Method Combine gin, honey syrup and lemon juice in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with champagne.

50ml gin
25ml fresh lemon juice
25ml 1:1 honey syrup
50ml-75ml champagne

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