Zack Gray's Bees of Bennett Valley
Inspired by a photograph his fiancée took during a recent visit to Bennett Valley, Bankers' Hill bar manager Zack Gray developed the Bees of Bennett Valley cocktail, a cross-pollination of the lemon-honey-and-gin classic Bee’s Knees, with ingredients sourced from the Sonoma Valley American Viticultural Area.
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“In my fiancée’s picture, there are bees in the lavender blooms and fennel growing in the background,” he says. “A chef I worked for in San Francisco always said, ‘If it grows together, it goes together.’ In this case, it makes perfect sense. All the flavors work together.”
Because fennel seed tasted too harsh against the drink’s citrus and sweet, Gray went back to the big picture his fiancée provided and found a balance through the tamer flavors in the pollen of the fennel’s tiny yellow blooms.
“It’s fresh, herbaceous and very refreshing — not too citrusy and not too sweet,” Gray says. “I think you get a little of the fennel at first, a floral fennel note to it, and then the citrus and the honey. It finishes with a little more fennel, and the lavender comes in at the end.”
Also a challenge, Gray says, the lavender proved more workable in bitter form than as a tincture.
“I tried making a straight lavender tincture with high-proof alcohol and dried lavender,” Gray says, “but it didn’t have the amount of lavender I really wanted in the drink. It was a little too subtle. I tried the Barkeep Lavender Bitters and it was perfect.”
The Bees of Bennett Valley had been a work-in-progress, but with these latest floral additions, Gray says that while he may be short of “perfect,” he’s much further down the road than “good enough.”
“But I think I’ll probably stop tweaking this one,” he says. “It’s where I want it to be.”
- 1.5 oz. fennel-pollen-infused Beefeater Gin*
- .75 oz. lemon juice
- .75 oz. honey syrup**
- 2 dashes Barkeep Organic Lavender Bitters
Pour ingredients into shaker tin with ice, double-strain into coupe glass, no garnish.
- Steep a pinch of fennel pollen in gin for a day (gin turns gold-colored); strain pollen out before using.
Dilute three parts honey with one part water.