The Bitter Bee | Santa Fe Sips

The Bitter Bee was created at Milk & Honey, NYC, 2008 by an unknown bartender. It’s also served at The Varnish in Los Angeles. I rarely make vodka drinks but this one is a big winner. It’s well-balanced and very satisfying, leading one famous bartender to say (rather snarkily), “it’s really an exception in the pantheon of vodka drinks.” It takes a little extra time to make, but it’s well worth it.

This cocktail is inspired by the Queen's Park Swizzle, a rum drink made popular at the Queen's Park Hotel in Trinidad during the 1920's.


The Bitter Bee


  • 2 oz vodka

  • ¾ oz lime juice

  • ¾ oz honey syrup

  • 1 tsp Demerara sugar

  • 4 dashes Angostura bitters

  • 6 leaves mint

  • Garnish: mint sprig


  • Chill a rocks glass

  • Lightly muddle mint leaves, lime juice, honey syrup, and Demerara sugar in shaker

  • Add vodka and a little crushed ice and shake for about 10 seconds

  • Pour into the rocks glass and top with crushed ice

  • Top with Angostura bitters

  • Add more crushed ice and garnish with a mint sprig



  1. Until 2020, the biggest US regulation pertaining to vodka was that it "be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color”, which made the concept of premium vodka a marketing coup. Since 2020, manufacturers have been allowed to add up to 2g/L of sugar and 1g/L of citric acid to their product. If you can detect the difference, and like it, go for it. I use a mid-tier vodka like Tito’s because it’s consistent and it’s cheap. I do want to try Luksusowa. It’s made from potatoes and is supposed to have good mouthfeel. And it’s cheap

  2. Muddling means to lightly crush. You can buy a bar tool made specifically to crush ingredients in a shaker or mixing glass, but you can get perfectly satisfactory results using the butt end of a wooden spoon. You’re not trying to make a paste - you’re trying to release flavors in the ingredients being muddled.

  3. Demerara sugar has a prominent molasses taste to it. If your honey syrup is strongly flavored, consider using regular cane sugar instead of Demerara sugar.

  4. Some people really like the look and taste of a float (in this case Angostura bitters) on a drink. I happen not to. I want a drink to taste the same from first sip to last and I don’t like being overpowered with one flavor in the beginning. So in my case, I’d shake the drink with the bitters included and not add them to the top of the ice. Let your palate be your guide.

  5. I know, I know, the recipe calls for a rocks glass and crushed ice. The photo shows the drink served up (without ice) in a coupe. Sue me.


About Matt Mathai