Now through Oct. 1, 21 Atlanta restaurants will be participating in the first ever Bee’s Knees cocktail week ; a nationwide effort to help raise money and awareness for honey bee conservation.
Sponsored by Liquor.com and Vermont’s Barr Hill gin, bars and restaurants from around the country have been tasked with creating a version of the Prohibition-era sour cocktail the Bee’s Knees containing gin, lemon juice and honey served up with a twist. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each drink will go to honey bee conservancy groups like People Pollinators or HoneyLove.org to research the cause of the mass colony collapses and assist in repopulation efforts.
Why should people care? These natural-born pollinators help to fertilize and produce close to one-third of the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States. Without honey bees, foods like peaches, kale, tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, potatoes and even coffee would simply not exist. A study conducted by the University of Maryland of nearly 5,000 beekeepers estimates that in just the last year, disease, hive mites and urban development have decimated over one-third of America’s bee colonies.
We spoke with four Atlanta restaurants involved in Bee’s Knees cocktail week to find out why they felt it was so important to shine a light on the beleaguered honey bee.
Chef Zach Meloy, Better Half
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“I don’t think people realize how much bees are connected to the foods we eat. Back 50 or 60 years ago, we were using these terribly toxic pesticides on crops. We’re just now seeing the catastrophic effects on the world’s honey bee population.”
Located in Home Park on Atlanta’s Westside, Better Half focuses on seasonal ingredients and creativity in its dishes using meats, cheeses and produce from local farms. This includes creating infused spirits, bitters and syrups for cocktails.
Meloy says all of the honey used at Better Half comes from a farm in Cleveland, GA.
“One of the coolest things about bees is the honey they produce which is like wine in a lot of ways. Honey communicates the terroir of the land which I then communicate through my dishes,” Meloy explains. “It’s hard to wrap your head around how much bees are needed to produce the vegetables and fruits we eat, so think of it this way, without bees, there would be no honey.”
Better Half’s Buzzin’ in the Free World cocktail keeps the soul of the classic alive using that local Cleveland honey in the syrup with a hint of lavender. It’s garnished with local bee pollen.
C-100, 349 14th St. NW, Atlanta. 404-695-4547, betterhalfatl.com.
Brandon Ley and Johnny Martinez, Georgia Beer Garden
“ Bee’s Knees cocktail week gives us a chance to continue giving back to our community and farmers. Without honey bees, there would be no hops for making beer,” Ley says of why a beer garden is involved in this cocktail-focused charity week.
Ley and Martinez, who also own Joystick Gamebar down the street, opened Georgia Beer Garden last November on Edgewood Avenue in the Old 4th Ward. They take the “Georgia” in the name seriously--all of the 110 beers and ciders listed on the menu are brewed in the state.
“Saving the bees is really important to us. We try hard to be good stewards of the environment and to our local farmers and brewers,” says Martinez. “We’re not as in touch with our food anymore. That connection is important and so are the bees that help pollinate the plants and trees which produce our vegetables and fruits.”
The Wild Honey Goat cocktail is a fairly classic take on the Bee’s Knees but adds one key ingredient, a saison from Roswell’s Abbey of the Holy Goats brewery called Goats in the Garden. The farmhouse-style ale’s citrus notes and slight effervescence gives the drink a shandy-like quality. General manager, Ian Carlson says the saison is brewed with elderflower which plays well with the juniper and honey contained in Barr Hill gin used in the cocktail.
420 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-458-5690, georgiabeergarden.com.
Lead bartender, Don Pirone, Bellina Alimentari
“The Bee’s Knees is one of my favorite classic cocktails. When I saw this week and what the proceeds from the sale of these cocktails were going toward, I jumped at the chance for Bellina to participate.”
Pirone says he wants both guests and Bellina’s staff to be excited about the cocktail and raising money for bee conservancy.
“We’ve put together a separate cutout for the drink with the name and its ingredients as well as what this drink’s proceeds will be going toward to provide to each guest,” Pirone says. “I’ve been speaking with staff during line-up before service each day and giving them cool bee facts to get them excited to speak with guests about the drink and saving the bees.”
Socrates Philosophies keeps it classic, only adding a spritz of lavender as an aromatic garnish before serving.
Ponce City Market, 675 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE #131, Atlanta. 404-330-9933, bellina-alimentari.com.
Manager, Katie McDonald, Wrecking Bar Brewpub
“We’re fortunate to have an apiary at our farm Wrecking Barn [in Loganville]. Those little guys do a very important job with cross-pollination and fertilization of our crops. Unpollinated crops have significantly lower yields with increased abnormalities and deformities,” McDonald explains. “Bees typically forage within two miles of their hive, sometimes three times that distance. They're not only taking care of our crops but doing their part to preserve the surrounding area.”
Wrecking Bar’s Plight of the Bumblebee is what McDonald calls an “ode to honey.” The honey in the cocktail carries hints of wildflower, sagebrush and orange blossoms.
“I wanted to bring out the bright, floral notes [of Barr Hill gin] with the Lillet blanc and orange flower water while grounding the cocktail with a bit of earthiness from the yerba mate- (South American tea leaf-like mixture ) infused raw honey.”
McDonald balances the cocktail with dry Curaçao and adds marigold petals from the restaurant’s garden for garnish.
292 Moreland Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-221-2600, wreckingbarbrewpub.com.
Visit drinkbeesknees.com/venues for the full list of participating Atlanta restaurants.