Don’t miss this month’s Last Call cocktail recipe that pairs honey and sage for a perfect fall cocktail (it’d be fabulous on Thanksgiving). Grab the Bee’s Knees cocktail recipe below, or be inspired by more Last Call cocktails.

This article first appeared in Traverse Northern Michigan. Find this story and more when you explore our digital issue library. Want Traverse delivered to your door or inbox monthly? View our print subscription and digital subscription options.

Bee's knees cocktail with sage

Photo by Dave Weidner

Here in the fruit belt—among the endless acres of cherry, peach and apple orchards—bees are king. We all plant wildflowers that attract them, preschoolers know not to damage milkweed and we are hyper-aware of the critical role the endangered insect plays in pollinating summer’s best produce. But can we please share a moment of appreciation for the sugary treat that bees leave with us long after all the leaves have fallen off those fruit trees? Honey. Whether you get yours from well-known beekeepers such as Hilbert’s Honey in Traverse City and Sleeping Bear Farms in Beulah or from a homegrown label that’s only available at the farmstand up the road, bottles and jars of honey remain perched next to those honor-system cash boxes after the apples and pumpkins have sold out.
Bee's knees cocktail honey

Photo by Dave Weidner

Related Read: October 2022 Last Call: Pommeau Flip Fall Cocktail Recipe.

This month, grab a bottle of Northern Michigan honey and take it as a hostess gift to whomever is roasting the turkey. Want to really show up? I suggest also arriving with the fixings for this sage-steeped Bee’s Knees cocktail. A Bee’s Knees is a Prohibition-era classic that dates back to the late 1920s, when an Austrian bartender in Paris apparently created the tipple that is simply gin, honey and freshly squeezed lemon juice. At this time of year, I like to add a bit of sage. Sage is pretty hardy stuff, outlasting many other garden herbs, which is why it is found in so many Thanksgiving recipes. When steeped with honey and muddled into the bottom of your cocktail shaker, the cold-tolerant perennial lends a subtle complexity that will work especially well with that sausage-and-sage dressing you’ve been looking forward to. (Bonus points if you find a honey that smells like those bees were feasting on the nectar of purple sage blossoms all summer long.)

Sage Bee’s Knees Cocktail Recipe

Serves 1

  • 3 sage leaves, separated
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1-ounce sage-honey syrup (see below)

Place ice cubes in a coupe glass to chill it. In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle 2 of the sage leaves. Add gin, lemon juice, sage-honey syrup and ice to the shaker and shake until cold. Discard the ice from the coupe and strain the mixture as you pour it into the cocktail glass. Slap the remaining sage leaf against the back of your hand to release its aroma and use it to garnish the drink.

Bee's knees cocktail on a tray with honey

Photo by Dave Weidner

Bee's knees cocktail honey close up

Photo by Dave Weidner

Sage-Honey Syrup Recipe

Makes 4 ounces

  • 1⁄3 cup Michigan honey
  • 1⁄3 cup hot water
  • 10 fresh sage leaves

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, add honey and water, using a spatula to scrape every last drop of honey you measured into the pan. Stir the mixture to combine and cook until it is bubbling vigorously, about 2 minutes. Place sage leaves into the mixture and turn off the heat. Holding the handle of the saucepan, swirl the pan so the sage leaves are incorporated with the syrup and allow the mixture to rest. Once the syrup has cooled to room temperature, remove the sage leaves with a fork and discard.

ADVANCE PREPARATION: Syrup can be made in advance and, after the sage leaves are removed, kept refrigerated in an airtight container for several weeks.
Bee's knees cocktail

Photo by Dave Weidner

Stacey Brugeman is a 20-year food and beverage journalist. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Saveur, Eater and on Instagram @staceybrugeman.

Dave Weidner is a local photographer for Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Follow him on Instagram @dzwphoto.

Sarah Peschel is a stylist and photographer with an appreciation for all things related to local agriculture, food and drink.

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner