Think cocktail recipes are getting too complicated these days? Well, some of the best classic cocktails are actually the simplest, and some star a pantry staple bartenders have been buzzing about for hundreds of years: honey.
Honey is an all-purpose miracle ingredient behind the bar. It’s sweet enough to substitute in for regular 1:1 simple syrup, complex enough to create depth of flavor when layered with citrus, and floral enough to tone down heat in spicy drinks. How to choose the right honey for cocktails? While you could break into your stash of fancy, single-origin honey, it may not be necessary. Keep it simple and opt for a regular mass-market clover variety for both time- and cost-efficiency. “I use clover honey,” says Crystal Chasse, bartender at Seamstress and Middle Branch in New York City. “It gets the job done and most recipes that call for honey were designed with clover honey.”
Now, if you’ve got a bottle of gin, tequila, rum, or whiskey, you’re ready to go. To celebrate one of many ways bees make our lives better (pollinating $15 billion of American crops, being another), here are three super-easy honey cocktails you can (probably) make with what you’ve got at home.
But First: Make Honey Syrup
Honey is typically too thick to use alone in a shaker—it likely will also be too strong. Many bartenders today follow the syrup-making methods of the late Sasha Petraske, classic cocktail pioneer and proprietor of the now-shuttered Milk & Honey, as well as Little Branch, Middle Branch, and Dutch Kills.
This recipe, taken from his posthumously-released cocktail book Regarding Cocktails, calls for 1 part honey for ⅓ parts hot water, resulting is a rich, viscous honey syrup that can be substituted in for regular simple syrup in many cases.
The phrase the “bee’s knees” was used in Prohibition times as slang to mean “the best.” This cocktail, a gin sour that’s believed to have been created around that time, used lemon and honey to mask the harsh smell of bathtub gin. If your guest wants something refreshing with gin, look no further. Get the recipe for the Bee's Knee's cocktail »
Honey has a unique ability to temper spice and heat. This customizable drink, created at Little Branch in New York City, is essential for spicy cocktail lovers. Built with either tequila or white rum, the drink is refreshing but fiery, with the addition of both cayenne pepper and Cholula sauce. Get the recipe for the Torchlight cocktail »
This modern classic was invented at Sasha Petraske’s now-shuttered Milk & Honey bar by his childhood friend T.J. Siegal, who had chipped in a large portion of his life savings to help Petraske open the bar. As bartender Richard Boccato explains in Regarding Cocktails,, the drink’s simplicity, perfect balance, and no-fuss nature made it a “standard in bars the world over.” Get the recipe for the Gold Rush cocktail »
Bonus: Try the Penicillin, the most well-known variation of the classic Gold Rush, created in 2005 by Attaboy bartender Sam Ross. The recipe swaps in blended scotch for bourbon and splits honey’s sweetness with ginger syrup. Finally, a float of Islay scotch in the glass adds the perfect smoky sip.