“It is the honey which makes us cruel enough to ignore the death of a bee.” – Munia Khan
I gotta say, I don’t love honey. Never have. Never liked the flavour, never liked how the stickiness got everywhere. I was never one to add it to tea or to drizzle it over walnuts and cheese (although that does look delicious). I don’t mind it on baklava and I don’t mind it in yogurt, but that’s about it – it’s just not a flavour that I enjoy.
I do love bees though. LOVE them. I love the way they look, their combination of fat little bodies and stubby little legs, I love all the “it’s impossible to fly but we’re gonna do it anyway” physics of them. Love their work ethic (I love it, but I don’t necessarily share it, or there’d be far more posts on here). I love the romantic idea that if they sting you they die, so it’s a last ditch all or nothing “fuck you” as they fade away. I love their honeycomb living-rooms and I love their social structure and I love their “want nothing to do with you all day long unless you happen to be holding a flower” approach to life. I also love that there’s a breed of bee with the word “killer” in its name – imagine killer caterpillars or killer koalas, they’d get a lot more respect.
As for honey syrup – which is what we’re going to mainly be dealing with here – well, that is rapidly growing on me. Honey syrup is essentially a simple syrup where honey is substituted for the sugar, so you get an end product which has a silkier feel to it. It helps to sweeten up a drink without making it “sugary” – I don’t understand the scientific process that’s going on, but it feels like it doesn’t burrow into the sweet part of your tongue, it kind of washes over it, like a gentle introduction to sweet instead of a slap you in the face introduction to sweet. It teases the tongue, it tickles it and hints at it – if sugar is the sex then honey syrup is the foreplay. And if it has to get into bed with a liquor, the darker the better – your bourbons and your rums – and it plays best with those.
One note of warning though: honey, whether on its own or when its used to make honey syrup, varies enormously from one brand to another, and from one type to another. That’s because the background flavours in the honey are very dependent on the diet of the bees who made it. If your bees build a hive next to a field full of lavender, you’re going to get honey with a noticeable hint of lavender. Put a colony next to alfalfa – bingo: alfalfa honey. So keep that in mind if you’re getting other flavours coming through in your cocktails. You may want to start with clover honey – it’s considered the most neutral, but if you’re feeling adventurous then go for a sourwood honey, a macadamia nut honey, or even a coffee honey.
I’m including a basic recipe for honey syrup. You probably don’t need it just because it’s so easy to make, but it is nice to have the measurements handy:
3 ½ oz honey
2 oz water
Place both into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the honey dissolves. Allow to cool. Store in a container and it keeps in the fridge for up to three months.
And so, let’s get to the recipes…
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