Saturday, August 5, 2017

Death of a Busybody with The Bee's Knees

When the Reverend Ethelred Claplady takes a drink in George Bellairs 'Death of a Busybody' it's a glass of sherry. (It's actually 3 glasses of sherry, which leaves him a little the worse for wear, but it's an understandable lapse to make when a deeply unpleasant busybody of a woman is found beaten to death in your cesspool). Now sherry is a drink in all its many (and delightful) forms that I'm willing to champion at any given opportunity, but it's not a cocktail, and I think that Reverend Claplady's sherry is probably best enjoyed as is (I imagine he favours an old oloroso - all nuts, dried fruit, and a dry finish).

However Reverend Claplady also keeps Bees, more than that he's engaged in writing a book about bees, and he sends Inspector Littlejohn some honey in the honeycomb, and that's all the excuse I need to make a Bee's Knees. This is a prohibition era American cocktail where the honey and lemon would have disguised the rough nature of the gin. I found a recipe for a hot version Here a couple of years ago - it's very good, but had never made cold one before tonight.

After a solid hour of unsuccessful searching for something that might sound like a champagne punch I drank at someone's seventieth birthday about 25 years ago - a memory blurred by both time and the strength of the punch (all I clearly remember about the drink was being warned that the secret ingredient was probably a lot of gin, it could equally have been Brandy. Or both.) I felt I deserved a drink.

I know this is another gin cocktail (though vodka would probably be an acceptable substitute given the strong flavour of the other ingredients) but it's really good, really easy to make, and really pretty, so worth embracing.

The recipe is simple - equal parts gin, lemon juice, and honey. I would suggest a light honey to give the gin a fighting chance of being tasted, but it's really a matter of personal taste and experimentation. Mix the gin and honey together until the honey is dissolved, put it in a cocktail shaker with the lemon juice and some ice, shake well, strain into cocktail glasses, and drink.

The combination of sugar (or something sweet), lemon, and gin, is something of a theme with these old cocktails (the Marmalade was another variation) but it works so well that it's worth thoroughly exploring. Here the honey gives the drink a wonderful golden colour, but more than that you also get all the complexity and richness of its flavours coming through - something sugar doesn't provide (or Marmalade for that matter). It doesn't taste alcoholic until about 5 minutes after you've finished it (I'm currently noticing that in fact it was).

Because of the hot version I'd thought of this as a winters drink, but cold with the honey really doing its thing (I used a Dorset heather honey this time) it tastes of summer hedgerows and gardens - which is nice, and also chimes in with the serpents in Eden theme of 'Death of a Busybody' for me.

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