Sakura, it’s the bee’s knees!

The Sakura Bee's Knees cocktail on a vintage tray.
Whoopee! Pass the hooch, Sakura season is finally here.

Each spring, blooming sakura (better known as flowering cherry trees) grace our parks and gardens with a stunning display of delicate pink blooms, the aging petals drifting down like a flurry of blush-hued snowflakes. The sweet scent of the blossoms and gentle hum of the visiting bees set the peaceful mood, reminding us that summer can’t be too far away.

Freshly opened cherry blossoms.
The Japanese proverb “hana yori dango” (dumplings rather than flowers) hints at the true priority of most cherry blossom viewers.
In Japan, the practice of hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is a highly-anticipated national activity. Budding trees are closely monitored, and daily bud progress “on the cherry blossom front" is announced by the weather bureau so that watchers can plan accordingly. On the first day of blossoms, families, friends, and co-workers toting picnic gear flock to the parks, seeking a peaceful spot under a canopy of pink and white.

The Japanese are not alone in their enthusiastic blossom appreciation.

Buffalo, famous for icy blizzards, beef on ‘weck, and spicy hot chicken wings, is also home to one of the United States’ largest (and most overlooked) Sakura celebrations. In its fifth year, the annual Buffalo Cherry Blossom Festival takes place right after Washington, D.C.’s National Festival and is a true celebration of both Japanese culture and community spirit.

The festival’s activities take place in Buffalo’s Frederick Law Olmsted park system — the nation’s oldest park system, and first of Olmsted’s renowned designs. Centermost are the beautiful Japanese Garden and Delaware Park’s many Kwanzan and Yoshino cherry trees, which are a fitting backdrop for picnics, Taiko drummers, haiku recitals, traditional dance, sake and food tastings, and blossom-pink boat rides on Hoyt Lake.

Visitors to Buffalo during the Cherry Blossom festival can also indulge an equally-fleeting, more spirituous blossom experience in Lockhouse Distillery’s ephemeral Sakura Gin.

A bottle of Lockhouse Distillery's seasonal Sakura Gin
Lockhouse Sakura Gin, an award-winning specialty botanical gin flavored with cherry blossoms.
Photo courtesy of Lockhouse Distillery.
Lockhouse Distillery is Buffalo’s first operating distillery since Prohibition. Named for the innovative system of locks unique to the region, this small distiller has been producing artisanal spirits using innovative, regionally-sourced ingredients since 2013.

Produced in collaboration with the Buffalo Olmsted Park Conservancy, Sakura Gin is made with just-fallen petals collected throughout the park system during the annual bloom. Each year’s bottling is distilled with the petal harvest of that year, making it a truly small batch spirit. Of course, that scarcity is half the fun!

The gin itself is a study in simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. Traditional gin botanicals mingle harmoniously with notes of rose and citrus. The delicate texture is reminiscent of the cherry’s velvety soft petals, and the finish is floral and slightly sweet. Complex enough to sip straight, yet mellow enough for mixing, the gin performed admirably in the Bee's Knees, a cocktail appropriately from the Prohibition Era.

The Sakura Bee's Knees is not on the Lockhouse Bar’s current cocktail menu, but according to partner and distillery manager Cory Muscato, it can be requested anytime. He estimates that the distillery has enough Sakura Gin set aside for their cocktail program to see them through July, so be sure to visit before then!

Lockhouse Distillery Spirits are available in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and the distillery donates $1 to the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy for every bottle of Sakura Gin sold at the distillery or through the distillery’s wholesale partners.

For those fortunate enough to have procured a bottle of the elusive Sakura Gin, please do try the Sakura Bee's Knees. Kanpai!

Sakura Bee’s Knees

Serves 1

The Sakura Bee's Knees cocktail.
This three-ingredient cocktail will inspire a magnificent cherry blossom viewing whether or not the landscape is awash in a sea of fragile pink.
  • 2 ounces Lockhouse Sakura Gin
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce honey syrup*
Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice until well chilled (about 30 seconds), double strain into a chilled coupe.

*To make honey syrup for several Bee’s Knees cocktails, dissolve 3 ounces wildflower or clover honey in 2 ounces just-boiled water. Let cool; store in refrigerator to prevent mold. (Makes 5 ounces).

Recipe courtesy of
Lockhouse Distillery & Bar
41 Columbia St
Buffalo, NY 14204

Lockhouse Distillery produces six flagship and two seasonal spirits which can be purchased at the distillery and sampled at the bar. The bar serves cocktails made with the house spirits and also features a wide variety of New York State-produced beer, wine, cider, and spirits. Kitchen service by Lait Cru at Lockhouse includes appetizers and sandwiches made from locally-sourced ingredients. See the menu.

Hours of Operation
Distillery & Bar: Tuesday - Friday, 12pm–midnight; Saturdays, 4pm–midnight
Distillery Tours: Tuesday - Saturday, 4pm–10pm
Note: Parties of 10 or more should book tours ahead of time by calling 716-768-4898.