Honey, slowly spooned into a bar glass — could there be anything quite so lovely?
From my perch at the pounded metal bar at TOCA at the Ritz Carlton, I could not think of a serious competitor for the beauty of that backlit pale amber syrup.
While the smartly dressed clinched their coats and whooshed through a glass revolving door into a blue Toronto evening, the bartender poured Bombay Sapphire gin and Angostura Bitters into the glass and mixed vigorously with a long spoon. He produced a martini glass, chilled with a flourish of liquid nitro smoke, applied the garnish of lemon peel.
He waited for me to take a sip. I said I found the drink very comforting; did not say that I was lost in nostalgia. For while some families draw together around a holiday ham, or perhaps a plate of chocolate chip cookies, mine came together over its official cocktail, a gin and tonic, and, in less festive times, the official remedy for colds, a “tea” made with more honey than water.
Never had I thought to combine the two beverages, although the idea is quite an old one. During U.S. Prohibition, when “gin” was as often as not a homemade concoction of cheap grain alcohol and juniper berry juice, honey and lemon masked the harsh flavor and scent of the makeshift spirit.
“The bee’s knees,” is how a flapper might have described this warm and comforting concoction, using a popular phrase in the 1920s that meant “excellent”. TOCA’s Bitter Bombay Bee is a modern variation of the classic cocktail that became known as Bee’s Knees. And it was excellent indeed.
Read on as I follow the honey trail in Toronto, Nova Scotia (pictured above), Vancouver, Montreal, and Calgary.