Raise funds to support pollinators while sipping an adult beverage during next month’s national Bee’s Knees Week. Find out what the buzz is about.

Gray Chapman
August 17, 2020
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Pictured Recipe: The Bee's Knees Cocktail

Ryan Christiansen, the owner and head distiller of Vermont-based Caledonia Spirits, was having drinks with a friend one night in 2017 when his buddy asked him a question he’d never forget: “What does Caledonia actually do for the bees?”

Pollinators had been a part of Caledonia Spirits—producers of Barr Hill gin and vodka—since the distillery’s early days; founder Todd Hardie ran an apiary for 30 years. And the award- winning craft distillery still sourced raw local honey for its three flagship spirits. But that wasn’t quite enough for Christiansen’s drinking companion, a bartender and beekeeper concerned about declining bee populations and the broader implications for our food system. Pollinators help sustain more than one-third of crops globally, yet for decades their numbers have continued to fall each year, sometimes by as much as 40%, due to factors such as climate change, habitat loss and toxins like pesticides. “He was very firm in his expectation that there was more we could do,” says Christiansen.

By the time they finished their round, Bee’s Knees Week was born. The concept: for one week in September, bars and restaurants across the country would create and serve their own versions of the Bee’s Knees cocktail, a Prohibition-era classic made with gin, lemon and honey, and $1 from each drink would go to a nonprofit supporting pollinators. The first year, over 300 restaurants and bars participated. In 2019, that total surpassed 1,000. And hundreds more are expected to participate in Bee’s Knees Week 2020 even with the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, the initiative has raised $63,000 for groups like The Bee Cause Project, which installs beehives at K-12 schools and nonprofits to educate students on the importance of pollinators.

This year's Bee's Knees Week is the easiest yet to participate. Slated for September 19 to 27 (slightly longer to help with limited capacity), either order a Barr Hill Bee's Knees cocktail at a participating bar or restaurant (find a list of places near you, here) or make one at home (we have this recipe to help you out). Simply snap a picture of your cocktail, and share the image on social media with the hashtag #beeskneesweek2020 and tag @barhillgin as well as the restaurant where you got the cocktail if applicable. For each picture, Caledonia Spirits will plant 10 square feet of bee habitat. For each restaurant whose bee habitat contribution exceeds their location's footprint, the distillery will be sending a special gift.

“The cause is a no-brainer,” says Nadia Womble, bar manager at Waterworks Food & Drink in Winooski, Vermont. “It’s a celebration of this storied cocktail and a way to save pollinators. It gives meaning to drinking the drink.” Christiansen concedes that it’s hard to know what this September is going to look like, “But if nothing else, I think it’s been an awakening: we all live on the same planet. Maybe we can come out of this realizing that there is a unity throughout this world— and bees are very much a part of that."

EatingWell, September 2020