Many cocktails feature honey, from the cold-curing Hot Toddy and Penicillin whiskey drinks, to custom sips made from local honey types. And then there are sips that star another hive product: beeswax.
Beeswax started showing up in popular cocktail establishments in recent years, thanks to a technique pioneered by Ryan Chetiyawardana, bartender and owner of world-renowned establishments in London and around the world, including New York City and Washington, D.C. The humble World’s Best Bar winner, Chetiyawardana — a.k.a. Mr. Lyan — has since inspired bartenders across NYC, Seattle, and Durham, N.C. to incorporate beeswax-infused drinks on their menus.
Here, these barkeepers (not beekeepers) wax poetic about the beauty of incorporating beeswax into their creative cocktails.
Silver Lyan, a subterranean cocktail bar in a former bank vault in Washington D.C., reopened this past summer after pandemic lockdown. (It originally opened in February 2021.) It is the first bar from Chetiyawardana to open outside Europe. Lyan is celebrated for being the first to experiment with beeswax in cocktails — and created such a buzz that many bartenders were inspired to do the same, including some featured in this article.
Lyan’s Fish House Punch debuted on the opening menu. It is created with Bayou White Rum, Plantation Original Dark Rum, Doorly’s 12-Year-Old Rum, Blood Peach EdV, fish sauce sherbet, peach leaf, lemon, and soda. The ingredients are bottled in a beeswax-lined bottle and offered as an individual pour from the bartender, or guests can opt to buy the full bottle ($60 serves four) to share at their table.
“It’s been great to see it received both as a group serve and an individual one,” Chetiyawardana says. “People seem to love it in both capacities, but the impact of having the beeswax-lined bottle as part of the table-side group serve has been really popular.”
Beeswax has been a signature ingredient for the Lyan family for a decade, he says, and over that time different waxes have been explored, different sources, and different applications. His bar in London, White Lyan, is where Chetiyawardana first played with the ingredient. “We work with different suppliers, then infuse in house, and beeswax line the bottles ourselves,” he says.
“It initially started as I studied social insects as part of my biology degree, and I’m obsessed with honey,” says Chetiyawardana. “It has drawn us from both a flavor and texture point of view, and from the early days of White Lyan’s Beeswax Old Fashioned it’s been something we’ve been excited to see in different applications — from working with Nordic Food Lab to debuting the technique on our MasterClass series, it’s been amazing to see what different people have done with the ingredient.”
Like honey, beeswax varies from hive to hive. “Different waxes and sources have different profiles,” says Chetiyawardana,” much like their honey counterparts — but they have a golden richness and, of course, a deep waxy texture. They lend flavor and textural elements to cocktails. In the Fish House Punch, they give floral honey notes, but they also give a counterpoint to the lighter aspects of the drink — the citrus and soda, as well as some brighter tropical notes from the rums — so they give a great contrast of body on the palate, and aromatics that linger.”
Stay tuned: “We have a small supply of a very special wax that comes from the extra special honey we use in our ‘Presidential Gift’ cocktail that we have a ‘single origin’ cocktail to explore, alongside some waxes sourced from apiaries nearby, or from friends across the country,” says Chetiyawardana. “It’s an ingredient we continue to be fascinated by and will continue to explore as long as we can find meaningful applications for it.”
Beeswax-infused bourbon is used to create the Busy Bees at the recently reopened Riverpark in Manhattan. It debuted for the opening cocktail program at the restaurant that launched this last May. The sip is a play on the iconic Manhattan cocktail.
“I was inspired by Ryan Chetiyawardana to look into wax-washing cocktails,” says Gregory DeVico, beverage director at Riverpark. “It’s such an interesting concept and I wanted to see if I could put my own spin on it.”
The beeswax-infused bourbon is made in house, and has become a cold-weather favorite, says DeVico. “The beeswax infusion is created using a sous vide,” he says. “We use about 80 grams of beeswax pellets to 750 milligrams of bourbon. We let it infuse at 163 degrees Fahrenheit for about two-and-a-half hours.”
And to build the cocktail: “We use Cherry Heering and a dash of absinthe. The absinthe brings a lovely, layered complexity to the cocktail and the Cherry Heering adds a touch of sweetness. The beeswax softens the bourbon and brings a honeyed characteristic to the spirit. We line the bottles with paraffin wax and pour the cocktail into the bottles. As the cocktail sits in the bottle the wax starts to pull out the leathery and savory earthy notes of the cocktail. We serve it with an expressed torched orange peel in an Old Fashioned glass with a large rock.”
DeVico is also experimenting with making classics with beeswax-infused liquor like an Old Fashioned and Bee’s Knees. And, he says, “We are starting to experiment with gin and look forward to seeing where that avenue takes us.”
The inspiration behind using beeswax in a cocktail at Mace New York is simple: “I like honey,” says partner and creator Nico De Soto. The Fennel Pollen is a take on an Aperol Spritz, and is made with fennel-and-bee-pollen-infused Aperol, beeswax-infused Pisco, Prosecco, Champagne acid and acacia honey. It is shaken, garnished with a kumquat and olive, and served in a wine glass.
Abigail Gullo, guest bartender at In The Heart Speakeasy in West Seattle, and also director of industry for Seattle Cocktail Week, creates a sip called Mind Your Beeswax with barrel-aged beeswax gin prepared in house using local Seattle Copperworks gin, honey, fresh lemon juice, two dashes of Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters, and fresh lavender stalk garnish. Shake ingredients and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
To make the beeswax gin, Gullo uses 10 ounces of barrel-aged gin and 2 ounces of beeswax. She seals the gin and beeswax in a bag (using a vacuum sealing machine) and sous vide for two-and-a-half hours at 68 degrees Celsius. Next, she plunges the bag into iced water to cool the gin immediately after cooking. Then, she strains out any sediment and wax through a coffee filter. (Note: If you do not have a vacuum sealing machine, a Ziploc bag can be used to seal the gin and beeswax. Place in a pot of water on the stove using a temperature probe to ensure the beeswax does not exceed 70 degrees Celsius.)
There is also an option to batch this cocktail (adding 1 ounce of water for dilution per cocktail) and pour it into a beeswax lined bottle, says Gullo. “Let it mellow in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and then pour chilled directly into a chilled glass or over ice.”
While Gullo uses gin, “Scotch is great, too,” she says, “and the perfect seasonal drink.”
Gullo also suggests fat-washing, melting the beeswax, and adding it to a spirit, then refrigerating — the beeswax can be skimmed off when hardened and the spirit retains the flavor.
Another tip: “As for aging spirits in a beeswax-lined bottle, it is more sustainable than barrel-aging spirits, but it requires the labor of bees and thus is not good for vegans.”
Kingfisher co-owner/mixologist Sean Umstead (he owns the restaurant with Michelle Vanderwalker) in Durham, N.C., debuted the Bee Durham cocktail when the restaurant opened in 2018 to celebrate the city’s upcoming 150th anniversary in 2019. And it created quite a stir. “It is the most popular cocktail we’ve ever created,” Umstead says.
Because the cocktail is made with local honey, Umstead says he was inspired to also use beeswax “to round out all the flavors of the hive,” adding that local beeswax brings out lots of complexity to an otherwise straightforward drink.
“Beeswax adds incredible texture and floral notes,” Umstead says. “It can really dry out a cocktail and bring the more subtle notes in honey like white flowers to the forefront. It truly adds a ‘waxy’ textural element. It gives a perception of dryness.”
He says his idea for using beeswax comes from the Lyan group out of London, too. “They have a lot of really progressive flavor concepts that inspire us,” he says.
The Bee Durham is made with local Conniption Navy Strength Gin infused with local beeswax, local honey, and fresh lemon.
“We melt down sticks of beeswax in Mason jars and line the jars as the beeswax cools,” Umstead says. “This maximizes surface area and contact with the added gin, kind of like a barrel and whiskey.”
The gin is poured into the jar once the wax has hardened and infused for four days, and the jars can be reused without melting the wax again. Or, he says, you can melt the beeswax, spread it around in the jar, and immediately pour the gin into the jar, speeding up the infusion process. “It’s minimally different as long as you can wait three to four days,” he says.
The Night Nurse at New York City’s Hawksmoor is a riff on the classic Penicillin cocktail, and beeswax is integral to the prescription — or recipe.
“We really wanted to do a riff on the Penicillin for our New York City opening,” Adam Montgomerie, bar manager, says. “About six years ago I had a cocktail at White Lyan in East London that used beeswax, and it really stuck with me.”
“It’s part of our ’50 years of New York bar life’ section,” says Montgomerie, “which features a variety of drinks New York has given the world, with a Hawksmoor twist. It is our 2000s drink to pay homage to [the Penicillin].”
Adds Montgomerie: “The flavors of Scotch, smoke, and honey work so well … the idea of adding that extra element of texture from the beeswax was really appealing.”
The Night Nurse cocktail debuted in fall 2021. “It’s very popular,” says Montgomerie, “which is great because often Scotch cocktails don’t sell as well as some other spirit categories. It’s also been nice to see how much of a favorite it’s become with our bar team, and consequently, how much they like to recommend it to our guests.”
Montgomerie says that the main purpose of the beeswax is to add a texture to the drink that otherwise wouldn’t be there. “It also adds some really nice floral top notes,” he says, “and obviously combines incredibly well with the acid-adjusted honey in the cocktail. Overall, the whisky, beeswax, honey, smoke, and ginger all come together and balance each other really well creating a super accessible Scotch cocktail.”
The beeswax is local. “We get the beeswax a few blocks away at Union Square Market, gently melt it, and add the Dewar’s 12-year-old,” Montgomerie says. “We let it all wash the [Scotch] whisky, cool down, then strain it off. As well as adding a lovely texture to the whisky, it also creates nice floral notes to the nose.”
Stay tuned: A beeswax gin in a Martini “would be lovely,” Montgomerie says.