You can’t go to the Olive Garden without your server pushing “specialty cocktails,” a euphemism for toxic waste. These poisonous catch-alls are enough to make you hurl. “McSewer’s 12-year bourbon, chrysanthemum syrup, birch tea, peppermint drop.” Or “Pukey’s small-batch rye, rosemary, Barfington gin, Sambucca, house-made cola.” Who drinks these messes? I made the mistake of ordering one last week at an upscale Italian place. The interior was so tasteful that I assumed the cocktails would be too. Wrong! It was billed as “hand-crafted whiskey, mint syrup, lemon juice.” Okay, but I didn’t want a lot of either the mint syrup or the lemon. “The drink will be off balance!” the waiter scolded. “That’s the way I want it.” “OK,” he huffed. “Then you’ll get an unbalanced drink.”
I was stunned. What was that ancient dictum about the customer always being right? That’s gone the way of the dodo and civil political discourse. He returned with a syrupy-sweet mess. The whiskey was lost in a wash of minty syrup and lemonade. Why drown a small-batch whiskey in lemon-mint Crystal Lite?
My pal Mike, the ex-priest, told me about a great cocktail he’d had at a restaurant called Print. So I made it at home – my way. Print calls the drink the Bee’s Knees, and Mike used what Print’s bartender told him were the ingredients and proportions. The ingredients were brilliant, the proportions ghastly. I haven’t been to Print, so maybe their Bee’s Knees works. But I wanted it to taste good to me, so I changed the proportions and renamed it.
The result was fabulous. To me. Start by making lavender-infused gin. This is not difficult; you just have to find either loose lavender blossoms or herbal lavender tea bags. Try a health food store. Use good but not hideously expensive gin. It’s foolish to buy a super-premium brand if you’re going to flavor it yourself. Pour as much gin as you want to lavenderize into a clean, odor-free jar with a tight-fitting lid. (If the jar or lid still smells like pickles, use another jar.) Dump in a handful of lavender (or open some lavender tea bags and pour the contents into the jar). Don’t worry about proportions; they don’t matter. Let it stand for two days; shake it whenever you pass by. Then use a tea strainer and a funnel to decant the infusion into an attractive bottle with a tight-fitting lid or unblemished cork. The gin will not have turned purple. Miraculously, it will be honey colored.
Make a small bottle of Really Simple Syrup, but instead of using sugar, use equal parts raw honey and water. Just shake them together until the honey dissolves. Be sure to have a lemon on hand.
You could continue the theme by using honey produced by bees that collect lavender pollen, but I prefer honey made from tough, streetwise New York City bees. Yes, there are honey-producing bees in the city, and I buy as locally as possible – honey made by my neighborhood bees. Hence the drink’s name.
This recipe is simply the way I like it. Make it taste good to you.
The Union Square
1 part lavender-infused Beefeater gin
Lemon juice to taste
Really Simple Honey Syrup to taste
For a strong drink, pour the ingredients into a shaker filled with ice, shake quickly, strain and serve. For a less potent drink, serve it on ice and let it water down.