The warm part of the year is, among other things, a nice time for punch. America inherited its punches mainly from the Brits—think of the Tom Collins—who learned punch from India, which incidentally is where every single item worth salvaging from the British diet originated. This lineage means most of our punchy drinks are gin-based, which is fine, because gin is delicious.
The Bee’s Knees cocktail isn’t quite a punch, although it could be. It’s gin with lemon juice and honey syrup, garnished with a bright little twist of lemon peel. The honey syrup—honey simmered in water until fully melted, then cooled—is what makes the Bee’s Knees distinct from the Gin Sour, which uses white sugar. Both are delicious, but the floral characteristics of honey make for a richer, more delightful drink. Like the Gin Sour, the Bee’s Knees absolutely can and should be served with a ladle out of a big honkin’ bowl, or from a nice clear pitcher, sparkling with condensation at the center of your bright picnic tablecloth setup. The fresh lemon juice and honey are the stars, with the gin lending happy botanical notes around the edges. Like any good punch it’s powerfully tasty and dangerously drinkable, which means you will find yourself under-the-table drunk in no time.
There’s no particular reason to improve upon the Bee’s Knees, but it’s a format that practically screams out for improvised variations. Lemon is versatile enough to flavor sorbets and seafood in the same meal; it has signature pairings with both black pepper and raspberries. Honey, too, goes equally well with peanut butter in a sandwich and in barbecue sauce on smoked pork. A drink that puts lemon front and center and sweetens it with honey is inviting complementary flavors, even if it happens to be perfectly lovely all on its own. Hence, the Bee Sting.
The Bee Sting is essentially a spicy Bee’s Knees. It has all the brightness and sweetness of the Gin Sour and all the honeyed richness of the Bee’s Knees, plus a smoky pepper aroma and a nice capsaicin kick. It is often made with tequila, which is a more natural pairing with spicy pepper flavors, but here I am going to recommend sticking with gin, as it will retain some of that fun floral character that makes good gin cocktails so interesting. Barr Hill of Vermont makes a gin using raw honey that is just perfectly suited for both the Bee’s Knees and the Bee Sting. Try this:
2 oz. Barr Hill gin
¾ oz. lemon juice
¾ oz. honey simple syrup
½ oz. Ancho Reyes
The Bee Sting is best served cold, so mix those things together with a couple ice cubes. Wipe a fresh lemon peel around the rim of a martini glass or, even better, a coupe, then throw the lemon peel plus a slice of jalapeño into the glass. Strain the cocktail into the glass, and have a sip. Ancho Reyes is a liqueur flavored with sun-dried poblano peppers. It is very mildly spicy, as boozy as many popular bourbons, and has a very appealing smoky chili flavor and aroma. It suggests heat without providing very much of it, which is why you’ll want the jalapeño for support. Spice it up! Live a little!
Multiply that recipe by, what, eight? Ten? Make a batch and serve it out of a nice big pitcher, and you’ve got yourself a punch. Bright and citrusy, honeyed, gently botanical, but with an appealing hint of danger, a little fra diavolo character. And boozier than its juicy, delightful flavor might suggest. Be careful with it! Or don’t. Either way, consider drinking it outside, under the sun.