The Bee’s Knees cocktail and Repeal Day

Your cocktail calendar entry for: December
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Today we’re going to enjoy Repeal Day and the Bee’s Knees cocktail.  December 5, you see, is a major date on any drunkard’s calendar.  For the few of you still scratching your heads December 5, 1933 was the day the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified.

What does that mean?  The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment.  In one fell swoop Prohibition was relegated to the dustbin of bad memories.  The Volstead Act establishing federal enforcement of Prohibition became moot.  Eliot Ness got sent off to be an alcohol tax agent in the “Moonshine Mountains” of southern Ohio.  (Hardly a glamorous step after putting Al Capone in the Big House.)  But for all Al Capone did to supply the nation with booze during this dark time we have the Southside cocktail for his birthday.

Drinking during Prohibition

The event was so momentous that FDR said “what America needs now is a drink.”  No wonder he was elected president four times and was one of the best-lubricated presidents we’ve ever had.  Let’s face it, he probably needed a drink as much as anyone while trying to get the New Deal off the ground.

But enough on history and time for the booze.  Given the cruelty of the times good Prohibition-era drinks are uncommon even though there was plenty of drinking.  The 1920’s may have even been the booziest decade of the century, but bathtub gin wasn’t like what we enjoy today.

Bathtub gin was the predominant drink of the era and refers to any kind of homemade hooch made in amateur fashion.  Sure, some whiskey got made or smuggled in from Canada, but that wasn’t enough to keep the booze flowing.  Your basic bathtub gin consists of cheap, unpalatable grain alcohol distilled by moonshiners mixed with water and flavorings.  Your basic ceramic-lined bathtub was perfect to make modest commercial quantities while keeping operations undetectable by the police.

Unfortunately, it tasted lousy and today it would go straight down the drain in the Sink of Shame™.  As a result the cocktails developed during this era used strongly flavored ingredients to cover the fetid taste of the base spirit.  And that’s how we get to the Drink of the Day.

The Bee’s Knees

Today it’s natural to name the Bee’s Knees cocktail as Drink of the Day.  Nobody seems to know its inventor, but it is accepted as a Prohibition-era cocktail, masks the taste of the worst swill, and has a cool name.  There are only a few other era-appropriate cocktail inventions still considered classic that could qualify today.  One is the Colony cocktail.  Another is the Last Word.

Back to bee’s knees.  The phrase itself dates to well before Prohibition and was used to refer to something that didn’t exist.  It was used as a spoof term, like sending someone to the hardware store to buy plaid paint or a left-handed hammer.  Usage evolved and by the 1920s it became one of many terms, like “the ant’s pants” or “the cat’s pajamas”, used to describe something as the best.  And this is about as good as it got in those days.

Bee's Knees cocktail

Bee’s Knees

As a Prohibition era cocktail the Bee’s Knees is long on ingredients that help to mask the taste of lousy bathtub gin.  But it’s delicious even if you use a modern, thoroughly palatable gin.  As you can see it contains the base spirit, a sour element (lemon juice) and a sweetener (honey syrup) and is really a variation on a Gin Sour.
5 from 1 vote


  • 2 oz London Dry Gin. Obviously nothing fancy needed. Use some of the cheap swill you’ve got laying around.
  • 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ oz Honey syrup 2 parts honey to 1 part water, heat to blend the two


  • Combine ingredients in your shaker tin
  • Shake vigorously until well chilled
  • Strain into pre-chilled coupe
  • Drink
  • Rinse and repeat.
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