October 9th, 2007

Bénédictine is a brandy-based herbal liqueur flavoured using 27 plants and spices. It was first formulated in 1510 by Dom Bernardo Vincelli, a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Fécamp. The liqueur was made here for almost 300 years as a tonic to aid the monks, until the French Revolution destroyed the monastery and put an abrupt stop to production. More than 70 years later in 1863 Alexandre Le Grand came across Vincelli’s manuscript detailing his secret recipe, and after some revision released Bénédictine, the product we still drink today.

As you might expect from a herbal liqueur, herbal notes dominate Bénédictine, along with a butterscotch like sweetness. The sweetness is pretty strong, making it a bit sickly for drinking neat. Unfortunately, aside from the Last Word and another cocktail I will be covering shortly I haven’t really made much use of my bottle of Bénédictine, so I thought it was time to rectify this with a couple of interesting cocktails that put it to great use.

Argentina Cocktail with Bénédictine bottle in the background

Argentina Cocktail

The Argentina Cocktail didn’t initially catch my eye, but whilst browsing CocktailDB for Bénédictine based drinks the same basic mix of gin, vermouth, Bénédictine and bitters kept repeating, albeit with varying ratios and various added ingredients. I decided upon this version as it makes use of Cointreau, one of my favourite spirits, and sounded just a little more interesting than the others.

The drink provides a subtle blend of orange and Bénédictine sweetness, against the solid backbone of gin and vermouth. It’s sweeter than many cocktails I drink these days, but thanks to the use of bitters it stays just the right side of sickly to remain very drinkable. It’s always a little bit risky going blind in to a recipe you can’t find any further details for, but I’m pleased to say in this case the Argentina Cocktail proved to be very tasty.

Purgatory cocktail


The Purgatory was created by Ted Kilgore, bar manager at Monarch Restaurant in Maplewood, Mo. The recipe calls for Rittenhouse 100-proof Rye, and combined with Green Chartreuse (110 proof) and Bénédictine (86 proof) you would be forgiven for thinking this drink might better be named “Hell”. Indeed, I had reservations combining such strongly flavoured liqueurs and spirits, but based on how tasty the Last Word was I was willing to give it a try. A hearty recommendation from Garry Regan didn’t hurt either.

There is no masking this is a very strong drink. However, it is also rich, complex and, amazingly, very well balanced. The Chartreuse and Bénédictine provide a lovely herbal flavour, and they work well against each other to tone back the sweetness of the Bénédictine and the strength of the Chartreuse.

Despite 1½ shots of strongly-flavoured liqueur, the Rye stands up like few spirits would, and remains a strong background flavour in the drink. It finishes with a long anise flavour from the Chartreuse, which rounds off the drink nicely. Not a cocktail to drink on a school night then perhaps, but a delicious one nonetheless.

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Posted in Aromatic Bitters, Bénédictine, Chartreuse, Curaçao & Triple Sec, Gin, Orange Bitters, Recipes, Rye, Vermouth

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13 responses to “Bénédictine”

  1. Blair Blair says:

    Ho-boy, Purgatory seems the proper name for a cocktail with Bénédictine and Chartreuse in it, quite a one-two punch of herbal notes. Sounds a bit like a familiar Pousse Cafe.

  2. Ken Ken says:

    I’d thought to mention the Purgatory to you, but I never got around to it. I encountered a reference to Gary Regan’s article on Camper English’s blog, http://www.alcademics.com. I commented on the drink there as well, but to save people the bother of skipping back and forth between the sites, here’s a recap.

    I was quite skeptical when I read the ingredient list. But I love Green Chartreuse and I’ve been looking for some more rye drinks, so I decided to give it a try.

    The result: Very pleasant, and nothing like what I’d expected. The herbal complexities of the Chartreuse are quite present, while the Benedictine softens the result, and adds some of the “honey” notes that Regan mentioned. The rye is a background player in this drink, buts its spiciness provides a solid structure for the other ingredients.

    My original attempt was with Rittenhouse 80 proof, which I thought worked well. I’ve made the drink with Rittenhouse 100 proof as well, but I felt that the alcohol starts to overwhelm the drink. The 80 proof version is a more balanced drink for my taste.

    The lemon twist plays an important role as well! When I first sampled my creation, I thought that the result was good, but just a little flat. Then I remembered the “garnish,” so I cut a lemon twist over the drink. The addition of the lemon oil added a brightness to the drink that it had lacked on first sampling, and seemed to bring the other flavors into focus.

  3. Jay Jay says:

    “Ho-boy” – I believe that was my first reaction too Blair! Don’t let it scare you off though, it’s worth trying.

    Ken, thanks for your thoughts on the drink. I found the 100-proof to work well, but I would be interested to see what difference using the 80-proof would make. I couldn’t agree more about the lemon twist – really transforms the drink doesn’t it?

    I really must write something about garnishes, because to be perfectly honest until I started taking photos of the drinks I made I thought they were just for show. How wrong I was – I’d say the lemon twist is essential to a good many cocktails.

  4. Ken Ken says:

    BTW, Jay, speaking of garnishes, I’ve always found your twists gorgeous. I, on the other hand, have not been able to achieve that nice, tight spiral on a consistent basis. But then it’s only been the last couple of months that I’ve had a really good channel knife. I found out that my original one, which I basically never used because of its totally unsatisfactory results, was a piece of…. useless garbage. Once I bought a good one (an OXO Good Grips Lemon Zester), I was putting twists on everything!

  5. Marleigh Marleigh says:

    The Purgatory sounds delightful! I’ll have to give it a try and see if it lives up to its name…

  6. Rick Rick says:

    These both look phenomenal! Looks like it’s time to pick up that missing bottle of Chartreuse.

    What brand of channel knife do you use? And do you usually just cut a round of zest when not photographing?

  7. Jay Jay says:

    I currently use this one. I don’t think it’s really that great to be honest – it creates pretty thin, flimsy strips – but with careful cutting and wrapping around a straw they end up looking reasonable. For a few minutes at least!

    When I get a chance I want to try some other knifes and see what works best. Something like the Victorinox that Gabriel recommended looks good.

    If not photographing the cocktail, I vary between creating it properly, or cutting the zest but not bothering to wrap it up to create the tight spiral. Depends how lazy I’m feeling really!

  8. erik_flannestad erik_flannestad says:

    Two other exceptional cocktails with Benedictine are the Vieux Carre and the Cocktail a la Louisiane.

  9. Tiki Drinks & Indigo Firmaments » Blog Archive » January Seattle Trip, Part the First. says:

    [...] had another round at the small table. I just had to get to that bar! I remember reading about the Purgatory on Oh Gosh!, and having been on a Chartreuse kick lately (and knowing that Jamie was waxing on [...]

  10. Build a Bar « The SLO Booze Movement says:

    [...] and websites for recipes that might fit the bill, and lo and behold, on Oh Gosh! I ran smakc into a drink that used both.  Now you might say to yourself, “Self, there is no way that chartreuse and benedictine [...]

  11. AK AK says:

    I am presently drinking a rather enjoyable variation on the Argentina; aside from changing the proportions around I swapped the gin for armagnac.

    Since discovering the Purgatory I’ve made it several times and found it to be an excellent cocktail; the problem is that it always seems like the best idea later in an evening of drinking, when I feel like showing off to my friends. “Hey guys, want to taste something really crazy?” Oof.

  12. Linda Allen Linda Allen says:

    Considering that the Benedictine brandy originated with the monks of the same name, it is comical that there is a drink using that particular brandy, called Purgatory. I can’t wait to give it a try. Velvet

  13. New Orleans | scarpetta dolcetto says:

    [...] oz Bénédictine [...]

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