Not Invented by Monks

Continuing in my attempt to document the mixers and liqueurs I've been sampling recently, I will now focus on Benedictine, a French, brandy-based, herbal liqueur.

The name conjures up images of secluded monks guarding secret recipes handed down for generations (see my article about Chartreuse, another monastically themed libation, for a similar background) but according to Wikipedia the real story is a bit more prosaic: it was apparently invented by wine merchant and industrialist Alexandre Le Grand who later tried to link his concoction with the Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy to boost sales.

So...not invented by monks, then. Oh well. I still think it's pretty good, even without the cute backstory. Like most liqueurs, it's extremely sweet, and it has a fairly subdued, herbal flavour that is not, for once, dominated by anise. In this way it contrasts sharply with Chartreuse, which is assertive and very dominated by anise.

So how does one drink this stuff? Well, here's a weird bit of trivia: the world's biggest consumer of Benedictine is the Burnley Miners' Working Men's Social Club in Lancashire, where it is often mixed with hot water to make what they call a "Bene'n'hot" - Benedictine mixed with hot water. Apparently the practice dates back to World War 1, where British soldiers stationed in France developed a taste for the liqueur.

It's not really worth writing down a recipe for a Bene'n'hot - just mix a shot of the Benedictine with some boiling water and a squeeze of lemon and you're good to go. The Club apparently uses equal parts, but that's really up to you. It's good on a cold day, but nothing really to write home about.

Aside from the Bene'n'hot, the simplest Benedictine based cocktail would probably be the B&B:


  • 3 parts brandy
  • 1 part Benedictine

This is a simple duo, in the same category as a Martini or a Manhattan, two cocktails which I've written about before. In any case, it's a tasty combination if you happen to have a good brandy available. Don't be afraid to use a decent cognac here.

The somewhat subdued nature of Benedictine makes it a suitable sugar replacement in several cocktails if you're after something with a bit more...let's call it "oumph". So we have, for example, the Monte Carlo:

Monte Carlo

  • 3 parts rye or bourbon
  • 1 part Benedictine
  • 2-3 dashes angostura

This is simply a variation on the Old-Fashioned, with Benedictine as the sweetener instead of sugar. Or maybe it's a Manhattan with Benedictine replacing the vermouth. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, as the saying goes.

(If you omit the angostura, and you use rye whisky exclusively, do you now have an R&B? I don't know, but that's a really good name for a drink).

We can also make a Friso Sour, which is basically just a Whisky Sour with a nice shirt on:

Frisco sour

  • 4 parts rye or bourbon
  • 1 part Benedictine
  • 1 part lemon juice

This does indeed taste more or less like a Whisky Sour, but with added depth. The whisky and lemon juice, as you might expect, are the dominant flavours, but the spiced notes of the Benedictine come through soon after. If I had tried making this with Chartreuse, I suspect my description would have been something along the lines of "Chartreuse! Chartreuse EVERYWHERE! Oh, and some lemon".

Sometimes the Benedictine is used merely as a smoothing agent, like the Cocchi Americano in a Vesper. Take the Vieux Carré, for example:

Vieux Carré

  • 2 cl part rye or bourbon
  • 2 cl part brandy
  • 2 cl part sweet, red vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon Benedictine
  • 1-2 dashes angostura
  • 1-2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Named after the French Quarter in New Orleans this is, like the Monte Carlo, a variation on the classic Manhattan, made smoother by the additional ingredients. You'd be hard pressed to actually pick out the Benedictine or the Peychaud's bitters as distinct components, but the combination appears to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. It's an excellent drink.

Interesting side note: I don't know why, but cocktails associated with New Orleans are often a bit on the complicated side (see, for example, the Sazerac cocktail, which can be notoriously difficult to make, depending on how authentic you're trying to be). In fact, according to the article, the Old-Fashioned owes its existence as a reaction to these kinds of fancier drinks.

Then there's the Bobby Burns, which is a variation on the Rob Roy, which is itself a variation on the Manhattan (made with scotch instead of rye or bourbon):

Bobby Burns

  • 4 cl scotch
  • 2 cl sweet vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon Benedictine

As in the Vieux Carré, the Benedictine is just smoothing things out here. I actually rather like Scotch in cocktails, but a lot of people don't, so your mileage may vary with this one (it's not overly sweet, so there's nothing to hide the Scotch. In other words, you have to really like Scotch). I'd recommend something like Johnny Walker Red, which has enough peat in it to identify it as a Scotch, but not enough complexity to really warrant enjoying on its own (which isn't to say it's a bad Scotch. I'd describe it as "simple", which makes it good in cocktails).

There are other variations you can try. For example:

Unnamed Cocktail #1

  • 3-4 parts parts brandy
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1 part Benedictine

This is a sidecar with the Triple Sec swapped out for Benedictine. I haven't tried it yet, so I have no idea what it's like. In the same vein, we can also try:

Unnamed Cocktail #2

  • 3 parts Scotch
  • 1 part Benedictine

This is a Rusty Nail, but with the Drambuie replaced by Benedictine. Again, I haven't actually given it a shot yet (so to speak), but I have a hard time imagining that it's anything but tasty.

Really, there are a lot of possibilities here. This is one bottle that lends itself quite well to experimentation. So...go to it!