Honey is the sweet amber nectar of busy bees, improving just about everything it touches. That’s especially true with cocktails, and we’re not just talking about obvious choices like the hot toddy.
Now especially, as we transition from summer-fresh sippers to fall-appropriate cocktails, honey can really play a part. The most important thing you can do is ditch the mass-produced supermarket mega brand honey. Dig a little deeper into the best honey brands and you’ll find a world of different flavors and unmatched quality. See what’s kicking around the top shelf of your local shop or get the freshest stuff imaginable from you local farmer’s market. And while you’re working with the good stuff, here are a few other tips to remember when using honey at your home bar, plus a few recipes to try.
Often, the drink you’re making is cold and doesn’t take to honey as kindly as you like. The last thing you want is your lovely sweetener, sunk at the base of your glass and not even close to integrated. Try making honey syrup. This essentially entails mixing honey with warm water. Just remember to seal when not using and know that as a major sugar source, it will want to ferment on its own if you don’t use it soon.
With warm drinks, honey integrates pretty well so you can almost always get away with just adding it straight. Start small, however, as you don’t want to over-sweeten your cocktail. Adding honey directly like this is also a fantastic way to add to the texture of your cocktail.
Good honey can be swapped for a lot of things, from simple syrup to agave. Start trying it in some of your favorite cocktail recipes, especially tiki-style drinks like the Jungle Bird. If a drink calls for something sweet, even a liqueur, try plugging your favorite honey in instead.
And don’t limit yourself to a single kind, like the ubiquitous clover honey. A lighter, sweeter honey like orange blossom can be great with something herbal and aromatic, like gin. Manuka honey from New Zealand is richer and does great with spirits like rum and bourbon. Buckwheat is one of the darkest honeys and fares well with the spicy kick of rye or even some scotches. Talk up your local specialty shop owner or honey producer and get experimenting.
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a global bee shortage. Do your part and start your own hive! It’s actually an amazing hobby and you’ll learn about terroir in the process. The flavors your colony produces will be unique to your locale, as well as the time of year. Think floral late-spring honeys or a honey with some tropical notes if you reside closer to the equator. While beekeeping, you’ll be aiding the biodiversity at play in your region and experiencing the reward of mixing with something you helped make (or at least harvest).
This cocktail calls on the tropical notes of the Rampur whisky and the lovely bond they form with the buckwheat honey.
- 2 oz Rampur Asava Indian Single Malt Whisky
- .25 oz buckwheat honey
- 2-4 dashes Angostura Bitters
- orange peel
Method: In the bottom of a large rocks glass, combine the orange peel, bitters, and honey. Muddle to combine flavors and release the orange oil. Add whisky an gently stir to combine. Add ice, and stir again to further combine the ingredients and chill to dilution.
Here, take in the lovely interplay of this juniper-leaning gin with orange blossom honey, in syrup form.
- 1 oz Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin
- .5 oz fresh lemon juice
- .5 oz orange blossom honey syrup*
- 3 oz dry champagne
- 1 drop orange blossom water
*Honey Syrup: Mix 2 parts honey with 1 part warm water.
Method: In a cocktail shaker, combine the gin, citrus, and honey syrup. Shake, but not to bruise. Double strain into a tall flute and top with dry Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist and add one drop of orange blossom water.
We had to include a favorite Hot Toddy recipe. This one brings the bergamot of Earl Grey, enriched by honey. We suggest a lighter honey, like orange blossom or eucalyptus.
- 2 oz bourbon
- 4 oz hot water
- 1 oz lemon juice
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 bag Earl Grey tea
Method: Add bourbon, lemon, and honey to a heatproof mug. Make Earl Grey tea as usual, then add to mug. Stir to mix, garnish with a lemon wedge, and enjoy.
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