Most people who enjoy an adult beverage from time to time have a go-to spirit. I myself am a whiskey and gin man who almost never touches vodka. There are numerous vodka drinkers who wouldn’t dream of ordering a gin martini, while tequila drinkers are their own unique category.
Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and I’ve recently been intrigued by liquors that don’t fall into the gin, whiskey, rum, vodka and tequila categories; not liquors but liqueurs.
There are hundreds of liqueurs on the shelf that are likely unfamiliar to even the most seasoned tippler. Crème de Violette, Limoncello, Pastis, Cynar, Chartreuse, etc. Most recently, I have been curious about Benedictine.
Like many liqueurs, Benedictine’s unique recipe of 27 ingredients is a secret. It is said that only two people on Earth know the recipe. Also, it has been around for awhile — 1510 to be exact. That’s when a French Benedictine monk created the spirit using the three main ingredients of angelica, hyssop and lemon balm. The drink imparts sweet herbal flavors that, unlike many herbal liqueurs, do not impart a medicinal taste. It’s similar to a cognac, but more structured with a reedy touch of bitter. It’s actually delicious on its own, but the most common way to drink it is with brandy (equal parts of each).
The way most modern craft bartenders are using it is to impart an unusually distinct and unfamiliar taste to their own creations. The great part about that is, it doesn’t take much to instill that flavor. One of the most well-known classic cocktails using Benedictine is the New Orleans original Vieux Carré (voh-kar-ray), which takes its name from the French Quarter neighborhood of New Orleans, also called the Vieux Carré, or “old square.”
This drink tastes just as curious as Benedictine itself. It is complex, a bit bitter, a touch sweet and quite boozy, so ruminate on this one with small sips. Santé!
Kevin Hopper is bar manager at Capitol Bar, a quaint little cocktail house at 6100 W. State Street in Boise that serves classic cocktails and unique spirits.
3/4 ounce George Dickel Rye Whiskey
3/4 ounce Cognac
3/4 ounce Sweet vermouth
2 tsp. Bénédictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychauds bitters
Maraschino cherry garnish
In a mixing glass, add all the ingredients. Fill with ice and stir for a good 30-45 seconds. Strain into a cocktail or old-fashioned glass (I like the latter) and garnish with a cherry.