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Cheers! Oberon in a riff on a Prohibition era cocktail

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

You know it's summer when you see Bell's Oberon hit your local grocer’s shelves. It’s one of the signs that summer is finally coming to Michigan. One of the very first Cheers! episodes that Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings and I did almost five years ago featured a drink called the Oberon Sour. It was a hit.

So was a video my friend and colleague Jodi Westrick did of the drink being mixed. It went up on Michigan Radio’s Facebook page. Tammy said that video got so many hits, it made her hands famous. It was an overhead shot, so all you can see are bottles and hands.

Cheers, Michigan!: Oberon Sour

Anyway, that mixed drink with Oberon ale was really good. Tammy’s got another drink which uses Oberon.

“This is a riff on a classic cocktail called The Bee's Knees. This is one of the most famous cocktails to come out of Prohibition,” Tammy said.

During the period, a lot of the booze was called bathtub gin and often it tasted horrible. So, people used strong flavors in the cocktails to overcome the horrible booze taste.

It’s sort of a gin sour.  

“(The original Bee’s Knees) would have been gin, simple syrup and lemon juice. But because you wanted to cover up the taste of the bad gin, a Bee's Knees used honey syrup instead of simple syrup,” Tammy said.

Tammy skipped the bathtub gin and went for the Barrel Aged Peninsula Gin from Grand Traverse Distillery.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The ingredients for the Beer's Knees, a riff on the Prohibition cocktail Bee's Knees.

“We've talked about Grand Traverse before. We tasted their rye whiskey a while back and really loved that. This is finished in their bourbon and rye whiskey barrels,” she said.

She offered me a taste of the gin by itself and said, think of a nice oak table that’s been rubbed with lemon oil.

Um, yeah. Kinda. It certainly was a pleasing taste.

“Do you see what I mean? Like, it's distinctly lemony,” Tammy said excitedly. “And then you get that oak flavor, but it's just so easy and smooth to drink on its own.”

Of course, there’s no beer in the Bee’s Knees. Tammy said what she was making was a Beer’s Knees, hence the Oberon. She added that you can use the gin of your choice, and an IPA would work nicely in place of the Oberon.

Beer's Knees

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Squeeze the orange wedge before sliding it onto the rim of your glass.


2 oz gin
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz honey syrup (see below)
1 1/2 oz Oberon (or other beer)
Garnish: orange wedge
Combine all except beer in shaker with ice, strain into large coupe or martini glass. Top with beer. Garnish by squeezing orange wedge into glass, then dropping wedge in.

Honey Syrup
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup hot water
If honey is fluid, stir until thoroughly combined. If honey is crystallized, heat on stove until completely dissolved. Let cool, and store refrigerated. Yield: 5 oz

Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham are the authors of Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers from the University of Michigan Press. The book is based on the Cheers! episodes heard on Michigan Radio.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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