Ahead of World Gin Day 2018, we started the party a little early with the 2018 instalment of our Secret Cocktail Club, a series of pop ups in private locations that are designed to explore in each session one spirit and whether the choice of spirit makes a difference in the featured cocktail. For this one, we looked at gin and the Bees Knees cocktail.
The Bees Knees cocktail is a classic blend of gin, lemon juice and honey. First made popular during Prohibition to mask the harshness of bathtub gin, different recipes call for different proportions. The early reference to the recipe in David Embury's The Art of Mixing Drinks would have us all mixing equal parts of the three ingredients. For this event, we followed the proportions set out in the book Sasha Petraske Regarding Cocktails, which uses 60ml gin, 30ml lemon juice and about 22ml honey syrup. The honey syrup in the book is a mix of 3 parts honey: 1 part water and we used a stringybark honey made by a local producer in NSW. The choice of honey can in itself also have an impact on the cocktail as different varieties of honey will bring different flavours to the party - but that is a story for another tasting session!
Firstly we sampled a variety of gins, with a mix of boutique and well known brand in the mix. On taste were the Jensen's, the Bombay Sapphire, Hendricks, Chase Great Dry Gin and the Young Henry's Noble Cut. In its entirety, the line up represented the evolution of gin. The Jensen's for being a recreation of a historical recipe (which unless you have thousands of dollars, would be as close as you can get to tasting gin from the 19th century). The Bombay for being the first to make gin sexy in an era of vodka drinkers, Hendricks for making gin hip, Chase for marking the start of the grain to glass concept and the rise of boutique "craft" gin producers in the UK (and the gin using a different base spirit to the others) and Young Henry's as an example of how modern day gin producers in Australia are putting a spin on the old world definition of the category (and for bringing a completely different flavour profile of gin to the table than the others).
For a cocktail which was created to mask the hero ingredient, we honestly did not think that there would be such a variance in the final cocktail. But yet, once put side by side, even the newest gin drinkers at the table could discern a difference between all 5 cocktail samples. The Jensen's with its subtle and smooth tones ended up integrating seamlessly with the lemon and honey and was a firm favourite over the Bombay (which still carried the juniper-y kick through). The cucumber notes from the Hendricks really came through on the palate even on the cocktail and more than one person at the table didn't like that combination with the other ingredients. Yet another favourite was the Chase, the sweet notes from the apple cider base spirit used in the gin creating an overall tasting effect similar to stewed apples. The least favourite of the evening was the Noble Cut, both neat or in a cocktail - somehow the addition of the hops to the botanical infusion dampened everything else that those at the table associated with gin.
As an experiment, the night proved to be great fun on a social front, with the smaller format providing guests to interact with one another and contribute their two cents to the discussion. And of course on the booze front, we drank some fabulous (and not so fabulous) gins and cocktails and learnt a thing or two about how the choice of gin really matters in at least this, the Bees Knees cocktail. Thank you all who came, and we look forward to the next Secret Cocktail Club pop up where we'll be exploring....rum!