The Tom Collins is a classic standby for me when in someone’s house. Its easy to make, nearly any kitchen at any house has all of the ingredients. Its a drink I also avoid when out, because there still exists the kind of bar out there that will drown your sorrows with the dreaded yellow kool-aid better known as “sour mix.” Ugh!
So the other day reading up on my cocktails, I stumbled across the Underhill Lounge’s historical investigation of the cocktail known as “The Bees Knees.” The drink is a simple enough cocktail: replace the simple syrup in a Tom Collins with honey, shake and serve.
The honey can be rather cloying and sweet, but it lends a certain gravity to the drink. Whereas the Collins is essentially sippable, the Bees Knees tastes thicker and feels more satisfying. Its the gin drinker’s answer to “sooth your sore throat with a tea and honey.” (unless you fancy a hot gin Toddy, which in that case I’m curious to hear how well that works for you)
Another take on the Bees Knees is held by Jeffrey Morganthaler. He advocates making a simple syrup out of the honey (more Tom Collins like), but he also says that white rum makes an acceptable substitute. While the gin drinker in me respectfully disagrees and prefers to pay homage to the drink’s prohibition era roots, he makes some good points about the flavor profiles of rum working with honey and lemon.
Finally, I suggest a third way out (for those who like the idea of honey + gin, but think that the drink as outlined might be too sweet)which is a slight alteration called the Bees-knees-martini. Replace the honey with Barenjager, add the juice of one lemon: add ice, shake, and strain. Wallah, a much stronger take, but one that is true to the cocktail’s roots.
As for which gin I suggest? If you’re taking the honey + gin approach, almost any gin will work. The honey plays a much stronger role in this drink than does the sugar in a Tom Collins. The nuance of a subtle citrus gin is lost. If you’re going to make the martini, I would recommend a smoother gin with less juniper. Miller’s would work exceptional well.