A Bee Walks Into a Bar

Next time you have a cocktail, remember the pollinators.

From a bee’s-eye view, a flower’s shape, petal patterns and UV colors dramatically announce its stash of nectar and pollen. On a sunny day, watch how bees and flowers interact. Much like how some cocktail aficionados tend to like to drink out of a particular shaped glass, some bees only visit particular flowers. Short-tongued bees, like the polyester bee, prefer the tumbler-shaped shallow florets of a sunflower or aster; long-tongued bees, like the mason bee and honeybee, can drink nectar from a beardtongue flower, which looks like a Champagne flute. Bees don’t see red, due to the hue’s short wavelength, but they do see blue, purple, yellow and ultraviolet. With this in mind, next time I am in the mood for an old-school cocktail, perhaps I will go for an Aviation, which is purple, instead of a Pink Lady.

But without bees, would a mixologist have a job? These wonderful pollinators give a spirit verve and make a cocktail a “cocktail.” Even the shapes of the glass and colors of the drink resemble flowers, drawing humans to the elixir like bees to nectar. Straight up, bees are vital to the world of cocktails and hence to the employment of mixologists everywhere.

While not all bee-pollinated agricultural pursuits result in booze, some thankfully do. Likely the most well known, apple trees, are bee pollinated and the resulting fruit transformed into Calvados, applejack and hard cider. Pears are also made into perry (hard cider) and the famous eau de vie Poire Williams. More exotic fermentable fruits like the cashew apple (India), marula (Africa), strawberry tree (Portugal), tamarind (Philippines) and jackfruit (India) are made into popular regional spirits. With the help of yeast, much of nature’s bounty can be turned into alcohol, which undoubtedly means there are many local, small-batch wines and spirits made from dandelions, beach plums and other local fruits and flowers enjoyed in neighborhoods and households throughout Long Island—we just don’t know about them, right? While it is illegal to have your own still, one can always make a nice infused vodka or gin.

While not all bee-pollinated agricultural pursuits result in booze, some thankfully do.

Bees even give gin its true personality. Although predominantly tasting of juniper, gin is either redistilled with bee-pollinated herbs, spices, seeds, pods, fruits and flowers, or botanical flavors are added to the spirit right before bottling. Wouldn’t all gins taste similar without secret formulations of orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, lavender, meadowsweet and angelica?

Bees also have a heavy hand in crafting the liqueurs used as the chief flavoring agents of a cocktail. There would be no such thing as Chambord without raspberries, citrus and of course honey. Orange liqueurs are most commonly made with a beet sugar alcohol base, and bee-pollinated orange makes triple sec, Cointreau and curaçao possible. And while my husband would not even bat an eye if they didn’t exist, the Grasshopper cocktail is crucial when celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, and crème de menthe and crème de cacao are essential ingredients. Bees are responsible for mint and cacao!

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Mixers add more flavor and volume to a cocktail and offer another opportunity for bees to make a difference. The juice from cranberries, grapefruits, lemons, limes, oranges, pineapples and tomatoes as well as pomegranates, the base of grenadine, are all bee pollinated. In a sense, milk and half-and-half are also bee pollinated since the cows eat bee-pollinated clover … has my point been proven yet?? Bees are vital to creating delicious cocktails.

Ahhh, and the finishing touch: garnishes. It is like the bees put the slice of lemon on the glass themselves. The visual appeal of lemon, lime and orange slices caressing the side of a glass are not to be matched. Real maraschino cherries in the bottom of a cocktail make me drink faster to reach the prize.

Give thanks and a toast to the bees the next time you enjoy a cocktail. Not only do they need our attention, they deserve it.

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Laura Klahre is owner of Blossom Meadow. She is a full-time beekeeper and life-long conservationist. Please visit her new store on the North Fork in Cutchogue (31855 Main Road, just east of King Kullen), shared with Coffee Pot Cellars.