Honey and alcohol have always had a special relationship. From mead to hot toddies to the Bee’s Knees, the depth of flavor and versatility that different varietals of honey can provide have made it a staple behind bars. That’s why it makes so much sense to celebrate NYC Honey Week with a cocktail competition.
This year’s Queen Bee Cocktail Classic will be taking place at the hyper-local bar Proof+Gauge (which has its own rooftop beehive), hosted by last year’s co-winner Jena Ellenwood. It goes down on September 12, and a bunch of amazing female bartenders will be creating drinks using Queens Courage Old Tom Gin, made with local honey. We asked Ellenwood why honey and cocktails are a perfect pairing, and what you can expect if you attend this year’s competition.
Edible Brooklyn: Why is honey such a great cocktail ingredient?
Jena Ellenwood: Honey is such an awesome and versatile cocktail ingredient because the nuances vary depending on where it’s sourced. Honey doesn’t just add sweetness; it can add weight and roundness, grassy notes or floral ones. Honey is soothing—we use it when we’re sick to help calm our throats (Hot Toddy, anyone?). For me, honey invokes memories of tea with my grandma; it’s a familiar flavor linked to sense memories. The honey that we use in our Queens Courage New York Old Tom Gin comes from apiaries upstate, as well as the Brooklyn Grange rooftop hives. The honey gives the gin weight and sweetness, and I think makes it a very cocktail-friendly spirit.
EB: Which spirits work best with which honeys?
JE: I honestly haven’t come across a spirit that didn’t play nicely with a honey or a honey syrup! I think it really depends on what else you’re mixing with the honey and spirit that can integrate them and make them sing. The great thing about creating new cocktails for me is that feeling of throwing the rulebook out the window and just playing with what’s in front of me. The Brooklyn Grange honey tends to be a more assertive flavor, so unless it’s the featured element, you might not want to pair it with a neutral spirit, but then again…
EB: What makes for an excellent honey-inclusive cocktail?
JE: I think an excellent honey-inclusive cocktail has the right balance of sweet, acid, earth and spirit. Nicole Carnaggio and I won the Queen Bee Cocktail Classic last year with the “Mellow Buzz”: Queens Courage Gin, chamomile and Brooklyn Grange honey syrup, fresh lemon juice and orange bitters. The flavor of the “Mellow Buzz” has the familiar notes of chamomile and honey, but with layers of citrus and gin. When you boil it down, an excellent cocktail is one that makes you want to keep sipping, sparks a conversation, maybe even triggers a memory and certainly helps create one!
EB: What can people expect at this year’s Queen Bee Cocktail Classic?
JE: I’m so excited for this year’s Queen Bee Cocktail Classic! This is my first year hosting and our first cocktail competition at Proof+Gauge. There are six fabulous and creative ladies competing for Queen Bee, which will earn the winning recipe a spot on our fall menu (debuting in October) and a write up on Supercall.com.
Our competitors this year: Alice Lipping from The Sparrow Tavern, Haley Traub from Butter & Scotch, Laura Gardner from Staten Island’s Hop Shoppe, Meryl Laborde from Egg, Maria Paulina from Diamond Dogs, and Miryam Gomez from Bottle&Bine. They’ve all been given our Queens Courage New York Old Tom Gin—made with New York honey—and are all dreaming up drinks to celebrate New York and the honeybee!
My favorite part of this event every year is being in a room full of inspired women in my industry and getting the chance to create friendships and projects with them. Everyone who comes to the event gets the chance to sample all six of the original cocktails, talk to the competitors about their recipes, and then cast their vote for the Buzzed Fan Favorite! Don Tapas NYC will be serving their delicious meat and cheese boards and a selection of tapas. Our judges this year are also inspiring ladies: Bridget Firtle of The Noble Experiment and Justine Sterling from Supercall.com will be joining me in picking the cocktail that we think is the real “bee’s knees!”
After the judging, Proof+Gauge will be hosting an after-party featuring last year’s winner, the “Mellow Buzz,” and honey-themed beer from Big Alice Brewing. You’ll also get a chance to try drinks from our current summer menu before they disappear.