After seeing the beautiful but disturbing Cindy Sherman exhibition at MOMA in New York, I needed a little refreshment, and a candy from the Felix Gonzalez-Torres installation just wasn’t cutting it. We headed to The Modern, MOMA’s superlative restaurant and cocktail bar.
Amazingly, we secured a booth at the bar without a minute’s wait, and before long I was sipping one of my favorite cocktails of the trip: Via Per Le Indie, a drink with an inexplicably half-Italian, half-French name that is nevertheless 100% delicious. Cadenhead’s Old Raj Gin, distilled to 110 proof and infused with a little saffron, serves as the cocktail’s base. This Scottish spirit is mixed with Bénédictine (an herbal and relatively sweet French liqueur), fresh lemon juice, ginger and honey, and served over ice.
For $15, I expected something impressive, and this cocktail did not disappoint. An aroma of honey gave way to flavors of juniper, citrus, ginger, and then honey again on the finish. Complex and delicious, and just what I needed after some serious art consumption.
I had a much simpler version of this cocktail at Thalia, a restaurant/lounge in the Theater District. Their Bee’s Knees cocktail ($11) combined Tanqueray 10, lemon juice and honey, and again I found it to be a most satisfying sweet/sour drink.
I had never tried this gin/lemon/honey combo before, but it has a long history — it turns out that the Bee’s Knees is a classic cocktail from the Prohibition era. The honey, no doubt, served to smooth over the rough edges of the low-quality gins available at that time (you can read more about the cocktail’s history here).
Fortunately, we don’t need to mask our gins nowadays, giving us much more freedom to create a balanced cocktail. Encouraged by the simplicity and ready availability of the ingredients, I experimented at home with various proportions. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is Odd Bacchus’s ideal Bee’s Knees:
1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
1 or 2 dashes of orange bitters
First, juice a lemon and measure the amount of liquid you get. It should be about 1/2 oz. or a little more, depending on the size of the fruit. Add this to a shaker, and add twice as much gin as lemon juice. Spoon in two teaspoons of honey, and mix or shake these ingredients together now, before you add any ice to the shaker (the honey won’t dissolve well into a near-freezing liquid). After the honey has dissolved, give the mixture a taste to make sure the balance of sweet and sour is to your liking, and add another teaspoon of honey if necessary. Once you’ve achieved the flavor profile you like, add the bitters and some ice cubes, and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish, if you like, with a twist of lemon peel.
The Bee’s Knees tastes perfectly delicious without the orange bitters — that’s the classic recipe — but I found a couple of dashes took this cocktail to another level of complexity, roundness and depth.