Sometimes, as a bartender, humility is in order. I usually keep my ego in check all on my own, thank you very much. But other times, the outside world gladly clips my wings when I fly a little too close to the sun. One drink in particular humbled me like no other. I thought I had perfected the amazing classic cocktail The Bumblebee. I thought wrong.
I’ll begin at the beginning. I mean WAY in the beginning. The Bumblebee initially appeared in Charles H. Baker’s The South American Gentleman’s Companion, his Latin American counterpart to The Gentleman’s Companion. I’ve written about Baker before, he was a prosaic scribe who married well and traveled the world, basically doing little more than eating and drinking. We should all be so fortunate.
The drink is, as Baker put it, “A Nice Rum-Honey Thought from Georgetown, British Guyana.” Basically a rum sour sweetened with honey and made rich with egg white, Baker was right, it’s one hell of a nice thought. The cocktail first caught my eye in the late 1990s, as I started to discover the classics. After years of refinement, I became convinced I made the best version of the drink you’d ever have.
Then a particular guest came in one night. She informed me that she had just moved to Portland from San Francisco and that she frequented one of my friend’s bars down there. At the prompting of my buddy, she arrived at Clyde Common. I welcomed her as she asked if I knew how to make a Bumblebee, her favorite cocktail at her old hometown bar. I assured her that my version was superlative, and set out to carefully make the drink.
As she took her first sip, I eyed her cautiously, waiting for the signal that I did, indeed, make the world’s best Bumblebee. The crown surely had to be mine. But upon asking her how she liked the drink, she replied with, “It’s pretty good.” And as any man can tell you, there’s nothing that destroys the ego more than the term “pretty good.”
So I wrote my friend and asked for his recipe. Generously, he wrote back with the one below. Just looking at the ingredients and proportions I had to concede that he’d had me beat. And so I swallowed my pride and upon the woman’s next visit, I informed her that I’d procured the recipe from the bartender in San Francisco, and that her next Bumblebee would be as perfect as she’d ever had.
• 1½ oz. Appleton V/X rum
• ½ oz. Smith and Cross rum
• ¾ oz. fresh lime juice
• 1 oz. 1:1 honey syrup, made by combining equal parts honey and hot water
• ½ oz. egg white
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice cubes until well chilled. Twist orange peel over the surface and discard peel. Place several drops of Angostura bitters on top of the drink, then decorate by dragging a toothpick through the foam.
As a final note to the story, and the icing on the cake with regards to my crushed ego, when I made the cocktail with my friend’s recipe and the exact same ingredients as they do at his bar, the woman was still unimpressed with my talents. I guess there’s no pleasing some people.
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Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.