How Sweet It Is: Honey Cocktails and Mocktails
By Kirsten Macdissi Looking for ways to enjoy your recent honey harvest? Get in on the trend of artisanal honey drinks and find your perfect patio partner.
As a natural sweetener with flavor notes that go way beyond sugar, honey is a great partner with herbs, juices, and spirits. Whether you opt for a traditional pairing of honey with lemon (as in the old Prohibition classic, the Bee’s Knees) in your drinks or try an updated cosmo with honey and rosemary, there’s a sipper out there for everyone. And if you’re eschewing alcohol, honey is a sophisticated partner with fruit juices, herbs, and teas.
For most drinks, honey is too thick to use undiluted, so make a honey simple syrup by combining it with water in a 1:1 ratio (one-half cup of each will make a good amount of syrup). Gently warm the combination in a saucepan until the honey dissolves; alternatively, you can combine the honey with hot (not boiling) water. Stir to thoroughly blend, and then let cool. Avoid bringing the solution to a boil, as this may change the taste of the honey. The honey syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to one month.
The Bee’s Knees
Back in the 1920s, “the bee’s knees” was a phrase used to describe anything terrific or awesome, and this cocktail manages to be that with just three ingredients.
- 2 ounces gin
- ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ ounce honey syrup
Pour all the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake well. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Citrus and Honey Cosmo
Here the pairing of citrus and honey adds brightness and complexity to the classic cosmopolitan, while the rosemary adds a refreshing herbal note.
- 1 lime wedge
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 ounce honey (Note: here it’s okay to use straight honey, as it is a muddling ingredient)
- 1 ½ ounces vodka
- ¾ ounce grapefruit juice (preferably red)
- ¾ ounce cranberry juice
Muddle the lime wedge, rosemary sprig and honey in a cocktail shaker. Add the vodka and fruit juices, and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an additional sprig of rosemary. (adapted from liquor.com, Kelly Magyarics)
It’s Fall, Y’all
This is a refreshing drink when fall is in the air, but the evenings are still long and warm. The combo of apple and nutmeg is classic, but not as heavy — or as sweet — as full-on pumpkin spice. Nutmeg is a piquant spice and stronger than most people think, so use sparingly. Fresh grated would be an added bonus.
- 1 ounce Calvados or applejack
- ¾ ounce fresh orange juice
- ¼ ounce fresh lemon juice
- ½ ounce honey simple syrup (or to taste)
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 3 ounces prosecco or other sparkling wine
Combine Calvados, citrus juices, honey syrup and nutmeg in a shaker. Shake until well combined and strain into a flute. Top with the prosecco and garnish with orange peel or a maraschino cherry.
The Land of Milk and Honey
Bourbon and honey have long been compatible flavor mates. But instead of cutting the richness with lemon or orange, this drink leans into warm and cozy flavors— and then puts them on ice. It’s perfect for early fall, but would taste pretty good in winter next to a roaring fire, too.
- 1 ½ ounces bourbon
- ¼ ounce crème de cacao
- ¼ ounce salted caramel liqueur
- ½ ounce honey syrup
- 1 ounce half and half
- 2 ounces cold brew coffee
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake to chill. Strain and pour over crushed ice. Garnish with unsweetened cocoa powder. (adapted from Imbibe, Nick Brown)
Hot honey as a condiment and ingredient is showing up everywhere, and for good reason: that combo of sweet and hot is seriously good. It was only a matter of time before hot honey added its flavor bomb to drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
There are a couple of easy ways to make a hot honey simple syrup, but in general, the recipes call for a little more honey, a little less water. The extra sweetness helps to balance the heat. And save the ghost peppers for a jerk sauce or big batch of chili. You want subtle heat for a drink you can sip and enjoy, not a head-on-fire heat that wipes out other flavors.
For a rich hot honey syrup, combine in a saucepan 2/3 cup honey, 1/3 cup water, and one sliced-open, fresh jalapeno, or small dried chili pequin. Warm gently until honey dissolves into the water. Remove from heat and let stand about 15 minutes. Strain out the pepper and seeds. That’s it. An alternative (and even easier) version: substitute 1 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce for the pepper. Some people like the extra hit of tartness that comes from the vinegar in the hot sauce.
- 2 ounces mango juice
- ½ ounce pomegranate juice
- ½ ounce hot honey syrup
- Tonic water
- Lime wedge
Combine mango juice and hot honey syrup. Pour over ice and add pomegranate juice. Top with tonic water. Garnish with lime wedge.
Hot Honey Mojito Mocktail
- 1 ½ ounces hot honey syrup
- 1 oz. lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 5 or 6 mint leaves
- Club soda
Muddle the mint leaves in a rocks glass. Add ice to taste. Add lime juice and honey syrup and fill glass with club soda. Garnish with a lime wedge. (recipe from Trendgredient)
Not Your Granny’s Sweet Tea
Tea-based drinks are another strong trend in mocktails. Refreshing, astringent, chockful of healthy antioxidants, teas are a great alternative if you’re cutting back your alcohol consumption.
- 1 ¼ quarts boiling water
- 4 teaspoons loose tea leaves or 5 regular-sized tea bags
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 ½ cups pineapple juice
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ½ cup honey (not honey syrup)
Pour boiling water over tea and cloves. Steep for 5 minutes and strain. Add honey and stir to dissolve. Add fruit juices and chill. Serve over ice.
KIRSTEN MACDISSI is a former high school English teacher and adjunct, and current freelancer, beekeeper, and gardener. When not writing or checking hives, she is pulling weeds, kvetching about Nebraska weather and swapping books with her large extended family.
Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.