By Joanne Thomas

Many of the most popular cocktails and mixed drinks owe their deliciousness to a carefully crafted balance of tastes – a little sour, a little sweet, sometimes a hint of bitterness – along with a melding of complementary flavors. The sweet element is most often provided by simple syrup, which is basically sugar water with a neutral flavor that allows other ingredients to shine. Using honey in your adult beverages in place of sugar adds flavor as well as sweetness, allowing you to create more complex cocktails with just one effortless substitution.

Glass and bottle of Switchel
credit: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages
Honey & Alcohol Drinks

When you're experimenting with honey and alcohol drinks, remember that honey has a special affinity for citrus, ginger and spice, and it blends harmoniously with the flavors of most spirits, ranging from a nuanced, aged Scotch to versatile vodka. And while you're well aware that alcoholic drinks aren't exactly elixirs of health, the antioxidant benefits of raw honey, as well as its often-needed sore-throat-soothing properties, are well known.

Use Honey Syrup in Drinks

Look at recipes for cocktails that include honey and you'll most often see honey syrup, rather than straight honey, listed in the ingredients. Syrup is used because honey's thickness makes it difficult to blend into liquids as is. It's very easy to make your own honey syrup at home. Just stir together 3 parts honey to 1 part hot water and let it cool before use. You can substitute honey syrup one-for-one with simple syrup whenever you see the latter listed in a recipe. Cocktails calling for simple syrup that work just as well with honey syrup include mojitos, Tom Collins, daiquiris and some martini variations.

For sophisticated cocktail creations, consider infusing other ingredients into your honey syrup. Fresh ginger, fresh mint leaves, lavender, cinnamon and chilies, whether fresh, dried or ground, are all nice choices. Simmer a little or a lot with the honey and water for a few minutes, then turn off the heat and let the flavors infuse as the honey syrup cools. Strain the solids out before using the syrup.

Use your homemade honey syrup instead of simple syrup in a sweet and sour mix, which calls for equal parts syrup and fresh lemon and/or lime juice. You can use the mix for margaritas or any cocktails calling for sweet-and-sour mix.

Try a Bee's Knees Cocktail and Variations

The bee's knees, a cocktail dating to the Prohibition era, is probably the most famous of all honey-centric cocktails. It's 2 parts gin to 1 part fresh lemon juice, plus 1 part or less honey syrup to taste. Shake the ingredients with ice for 30 seconds or so and strain into a glass. There are many variations of this cocktail to try. For example, the bebbo adds a splash of orange juice to the original; the gold rush substitutes bourbon for gin; the penicillin uses Scotch and sometimes a touch of ginger. To mix things up a bit more, you might use lime juice instead of lemon, add a dash of bitters to balance the sweet and sour flavors, or top your glass up with soda water for a lighter drink.

Opt for Something Sweet and Spicy

If you've ever stirred together honey and hot sauce as a condiment or you love to eat any sweet and spicy foods, translate this winning flavor combination to your drinks menu. Try adding a dose of honey and a few or more dashes of hot sauce to a bloody mary at brunch. Or concoct a devil's advocate: muddled jalapenos with bourbon, lemon, honey syrup, ginger ale and a dash of bitters. A tamarindo margarita made with honey syrup, hot sauce and lime, served in a glass with a chili-salt rim, packs in a world of flavor with its heady tequila hit.

Explore Hot Toddies and Iced Teas

Another alcoholic drink that traditionally features honey as a main ingredient is a hot toddy, a soothing blend of strong hot tea, lemon juice, honey and Scotch that was surely invented on stormy day. Substitute bourbon or rum for the Scotch if you prefer it and play with different types of tea and citrus – perhaps a ginger tea with rum, honey and lime, or chamomile with grapefruit, honey and gin. Note that you don't necessarily need to prepare honey syrup for hot toddies, as the hot tea will easily dissolve straight honey. A cold version could be considered an adult iced tea. A Southern-style honeyed sweet tea pairs naturally with bourbon. Cold green tea with lemon, honey, a flavored vodka and plenty of ice would be perfectly refreshing on a hot day.