Shake Up Your Evening Cocktail With Some Honey

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For the better part of two centuries, sugar has been the primary conduit of sweetness in cocktails, often in the form of the aptly named simple syrup or dissolved in a cocktail shaker.

Modern bartenders have shaken up the mix in recent years with alternatives like maple or agave syrup, jams and complex custom concoctions. But there is one oft overlooked supporting player that’s been in the mixologist’s arsenal for generations, and it sits in most home pantries: honey.

“It’s so buttery,” said Tiffanie Barriere, an Atlanta-based bartender and consultant. “It’s my preferred sweetener. If I could put it in every cocktail, I would.”

Honey or honey syrup — an easy-to-make blend of honey and water, commonly a one-to-one ratio — doesn’t have a home-run drink to its name as famous as the old-fashioned or the margarita. But it has scored a steady stream of barroom base hits over the years. The Bee’s Knees, a honeyed, Prohibition-era gin sour, still has name recognition today. The Brown Derby, which features a mixture of honey, bourbon and grapefruit juice, was named after the famous Los Angeles restaurant of the same name. And the 1940s saw the rise of the Air Mail, a honeyed daiquiri topped with Champagne.

Stephen Bielawski, the beverage director at the newly opened Sunken Harbor Club in Downtown Brooklyn, makes a honey syrup flavored with two types of teas and various spices. In a drink called the English Armada, he combines the syrup with four rums and lime and grapefruit juices. For Mr. Bielawski, honey is a more effective tamer of strong flavors.

“I always found honey to be really good at holding onto flavors like tea and baking spices,” he said. Unlike sugar, which can hide itself inside a cocktail, he thinks honey keeps a bartender honest. “If there’s too much, the biggest flavor that jumps out of the drink is honey.”

Ms. Barriere said that honey goes with every spirit, and that she likes to use it to highlight savory flavors when incorporating vegetables like squash into drinks. “It makes it a dish more than a drink,” she said.

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