Bottle #56: Benedictine

After two bottles of Benedictine & Brandy, we finally come to bottle #56 – a real deal, actual bottle of Benedictine. I talked all about the history of Benedictine when I discovered my first bottle of B&B- Bottle #17, so you should go check that out. But the short version is: “French herbal liqueur launched in 1863 with a charming but fake monk creation backstory.”

This bottle is also charming. At just 3 cL it is extra tiny, and very adorable. It’s the same size and has the same weird foil closure with tabs that Bottle #54 – Cointreau – has, so my suspicion is that the two companies were using the same bottler for their minis and that the two bottles were acquired for Grandma’s collection at the same time. I estimated that the Cointreau bottle was from the 1960s, and that’s my guess on this one as well. It’s definitely before 1978, because that’s when Benedictine shifted to being bottled at 40% alcohol instead of 43% like this one: although that’s listed as 73 degrees proof in the British style. And the rustic-looking label is more like the 1960s examples than the 1970s ones.

Since I’ve already talked about the backstory of the brand (Bottle #17) I thought I’d use this episode to talk about how it’s been used in cocktails through history.

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That’s because – if all works well – by the time this episode airs I will have tasted this bottle of Benedictine (along with its B&B buddies) in one of the places in the world that honors it most in cocktails: New Orleans!

Creator Alexander Le Grand started making Benedictine in 1863, and he wasted no time in getting it into the American market. The earliest newspaper ads I could find for it were from 1867. It was arriving straight into what we today call the Golden Age of cocktails: the period from the 1860s to Prohibition that saw the creation of some of our most beloved classic cocktails. One of the stepping stones to those drinks was the idea of “improving” on one of the standard existing recipes by adding a dash of this or that. In his 1883 book, Patsy McDonough included the suggestion to add a dash of Benedictine as one of the ways to improve the classic “cocktail” recipe. So many improvements got made to that drink that today we call the original an Old Fashioned, as in “would you please just make me an old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail and stop all that messing around?”

It was probably around this time that it took a starring role in one of the classic New Orleans cocktails, the La Louisianne. It’s composed of equal parts Benedictine, rye whiskey and sweet vermouth, with a few dashes of both Absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters. The drink was the namesake cocktail of the La Louisianne hotel and restaurant that opened in 1881. It’s full bodied and lush, although definitely on the sweet side, with that full ounce of Benedictine!

A very similar set of ingredients would make its way into the much more famous Vieux Carre, which was invented by Walter Bergeron at New Orlean’s Hotel Monteleone in 1937. It’s a drier drink: equal parts rye, cognac and sweet vermouth, with just a barspoon of Benedictine and dashes of both Peychauds and Angostura bitters. Some people think the that the Vieux Carre came first and that the La Louisanne was an attempt to compete with that. But given that absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, it would have been a really odd ingredient for a newly created 1930s recipe to include. So I’m on team La Louisianne as the original.

Absinthe and Benedictine both appear in the 1916 cocktail the Chrysanthemum, which is a delightful and lower ABV cocktail with 2 parts dry vermouth, one part Benedictine and a few dashes of Absinthe. That one was created in the UK, where absinthe was never banned. Benedictine is also one of the key ingredients in a classic Singapore Sling.

Find recipes for all these cocktails below! I love using Benedictine as a cocktail ingredient. It’s got 27 botanicals in a neutral spirit based sweetened with honey, so it adds a ton of herbal complexity to anything you mix it with. But it does that by blending in and accenting the other flavors, which makes it very different from something like Chartreuse, its French cousin that’s actually made by monks. So it’s an ingredient I’ll turn to when I want to make something more interesting, but without changing it too much.

Join me next episode when I’ll be talking about all this and more with one of New Orleans best bartenders.

Watch me taste this bottle with Chris Hannah.

Cocktail a la Louisiane
1 oz rye whiskey
1 oz Bénédictine
1 oz sweet vermouth
3 dashes absinthe
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Garnish: cocktail cherry
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir very well. Strain into coupe or martini glass. Garnish.

Vieux Carre
1 oz rye
1 oz Cognac
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir very well. Strain into an ice-fille rocks glass.

Chrysanthemum
2 oz dry vermouth
1 oz Benedictine
3 dashes absinthe
Garnish: orange twist
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir very well. Strain into coupe or martini glass. Garnish.

Singapore Sling
1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz Benedictine
3/4 oz Cherry Heering
3/4 oz lime juice
1-2 oz club soda
Garnish: 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients except club soda in shaker with ice. Shake well, strain into Collins or highball glass. Add club soda, then fill with ice. Garnish.

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Bottle #56: Benedictine

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After two bottles of Benedictine & Brandy, we finally come to bottle #56 – a real deal, actual bottle of Benedictine. I talked all about the history of Benedictine when I discovered my first bottle of B&B – Bottle #17, so you should go check that out. But the short version is: “French herbal liqueur launched in 1863 with a charming but fake monk creation backstory.”

This bottle is also charming. At just 3 cL it is extra tiny, and very adorable. It’s the same size and has the same weird foil closure with tabs that Bottle #54 – Cointreau – has, so my suspicion is that the two companies were using the same bottler for their minis and that the two bottles were acquired for Grandma’s collection at the same time. I estimated that the Cointreau bottle was from the 1960s, and that’s my guess on this one as well. It’s definitely before 1978, because that’s when Benedictine shifted to being bottled at 40% alcohol instead of 43% like this one: although that’s listed as 73 degrees proof in the British style. And the rustic-looking label is more like the 1960s examples than the 1970s ones.

Since I’ve already talked about the backstory of the brand (Bottle #17) I thought I’d use this episode to talk about how it’s been used in cocktails through history. That’s because – if all works well – by the time this episode airs I will have tasted this bottle of Benedictine (along with its B&B buddies) in one of the places in the world that honors it most in cocktails: New Orleans!

Creator Alexander Le Grand started making Benedictine in 1863, and he wasted no time in getting it into the American market. The earliest newspaper ads I could find for it were from 1867. It was arriving straight into what we today call the Golden Age of cocktails: the period from the 1860s to Prohibition that saw the creation of some of our most beloved classic cocktails. One of the stepping stones to those drinks was the idea of “improving” on one of the standard existing recipes by adding a dash of this or that. In his 1883 book, Patsy McDonough included the suggestion to add a dash of Benedictine as one of the ways to improve the classic “cocktail” recipe. So many improvements got made to that drink that today we call the original an Old Fashioned, as in “would you please just make me an old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail and stop all that messing around?”

It was probably around this time that it took a starring role in one of the classic New Orleans cocktails, the La Louisianne. It’s composed of equal parts Benedictine, rye whiskey and sweet vermouth, with a few dashes of both Absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters. The drink was the namesake cocktail of the La Louisianne hotel and restaurant that opened in 1881. It’s full bodied and lush, although definitely on the sweet side, with that full ounce of Benedictine!

A very similar set of ingredients would make its way into the much more famous Vieux Carre, which was invented by Walter Bergeron at New Orlean’s Hotel Monteleone in 1937. It’s a drier drink: equal parts rye, cognac and sweet vermouth, with just a barspoon of Benedictine and dashes of both Peychauds and Angostura bitters. Some people think the that the Vieux Carre came first and that the La Louisanne was an attempt to compete with that. But given that absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, it would have been a really odd ingredient for a newly created 1930s recipe to include. So I’m on team La Louisianne as the original.

Absinthe and Benedictine both appear in the 1916 cocktail the Chrysanthemum, which is a delightful and lower ABV cocktail with 2 parts dry vermouth, one part Benedictine and a few dashes of Absinthe. That one was created in the UK, where absinthe was never banned. Benedictine is also one of the key ingredients in a classic Singapore Sling.

Find recipes for all these cocktails below! I love using Benedictine as a cocktail ingredient. It’s got 27 botanicals in a neutral spirit based sweetened with honey, so it adds a ton of herbal complexity to anything you mix it with. But it does that by blending in and accenting the other flavors, which makes it very different from something like Chartreuse, its French cousin that’s actually made by monks. So it’s an ingredient I’ll turn to when I want to make something more interesting, but without changing it too much.

Join me next episode when I’ll be talking about all this and more with one of New Orleans best bartenders.

Watch me taste this bottle with Chris Hannah.

Cocktail a la Louisiane
1 oz rye whiskey
1 oz Bénédictine
1 oz sweet vermouth
3 dashes absinthe
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Garnish: cocktail cherry
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir very well. Strain into coupe or martini glass. Garnish.

Vieux Carre
1 oz rye
1 oz Cognac
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir very well. Strain into an ice-fille rocks glass.

Chrysanthemum
2 oz dry vermouth
1 oz Benedictine
3 dashes absinthe
Garnish: orange twist
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir very well. Strain into coupe or martini glass. Garnish.

Singapore Sling
1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz Benedictine
3/4 oz Cherry Heering
3/4 oz lime juice
1-2 oz club soda
Garnish: 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients except club soda in shaker with ice. Shake well, strain into Collins or highball glass. Add club soda, then fill with ice. Garnish.

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