So, you’ve unearthed a unique recipe for a mysterious elixir originally created by monks hundreds of years ago. You’ve spent a year painstakingly recreating it. And you’ve been meticulous in every detail of launching it commercially to a contemporary audience. So what will you call this wondrous creation? How about ‘Liqueur des Moines Bénédictins de l’Abbaye de Fécamp’, which roughly translated means ‘Cordial of the Bénédictine Monks of the Abbey of Fécamp’? Of course you do, after all it’s nice and snappy right? Fortunately the clever chap who discovered and launched the liqueur in question had second thoughts about the description and later decided to simply go with the name Bénédictine.
So what is the story behind this unique liqueur? Back in 1863 Alexandre Le Grand, a wine merchant from Fécamp, was sorting through some family papers when he came across a book that had been tucked away in his library for many years. How old was the book? Well it had apparently fallen into the hands of his family around the French Revolution in 1789. And when he started to read it he realised it had originally been written by a Bénédictine monk named Dom Bernardo Vincelli in 1510.
Yes, 1510. The 200 pages of Gothic script largely consisted of the serious study of alchemy, but hidden amongst them was a recipe. This elixir contained some 27 plants and spices. Intrigued he spent the next year using his knowledge of distillation and spirits to unravel the ingredients and recreate the mixture. Not content with just recreating the liquid he also sought permission from the Superior of the Bénédictine order in Rome the right to use the name and the coat of arms of the Benedictine Abbey in Fécamp. He was also meticulous in his requirements for the design of the packaging specifying specific details for the label and ordering a special glass bottle.
Just one year after discovering the recipe he launched his liqueur in 1864 describing it as ‘Cordial of the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Fecamp’. Some three years later he decided the shorter and simpler Bénédictine was preferable, and by 1870 this name was trademarked. In the process making it a whole lot easier for us to order at the bar.
The home of Bénédictine is also well worth a visit in its own right as we recently found out. The Palais Bénédictine in Fécamp Normandy is part distillery, part palace and a very curious mix, capturing both the liqueur’s ecilastical origins and its unique story. There are beautiful archive advertising posters and historical objects, not to mention an eccentric collection of Bénédictine fakes from around the world. And even if you’re not an academic or aesthetic you might want to go along simply because it’s the only place where you can sample Bénédictine Single Cask, a supercharged, super delicious version of the liqueur.
Bénédictine has long been a key ingredient in classic cocktails such as the Singapore Sling and Bobby Burns. But nowadays it doesn’t just restrict itself to modestly playing the supporting yet vital role in cocktails, it’s also becoming something of a star in its own right. For proof try out the Big Ben and Pampemousse recipes below. And if you want to make like a Fécamp local simply pour a single shot of Bénédictine into a cup of good quality black coffee. We heartily recommend it to round off a meal.
For more recipes and details of how to visit the Palais Bénédictine see www.benedictinedom.com
Singapore Sling (original Singapore Raffles Sling)
35 ml Bombay Sapphire gin
15 ml Bénédictine
15 ml cherry brandy
Top up with club soda
Pour the gin, Bénédictine and cherry brandy into a tall glass. Fill with ice cubes and top up with club soda. Garnish with a lime wedge and cherry on the rim. Squeeze and drop another lime wedge into the glass.
30 ml Blended scotch whisky (Dewar’s 12)
30 ml Sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat Rouge)
15 ml Bénédictine
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, strain into the cocktail glass, twist the lemon peel over the glass to release its oil and drop it in.
50 ml Bénédictine
Pour the Bénédictine into a tall glass, fill with ice cubes, top up with tonic water and garnish with a lime wedge on the rim of the glass. Squeeze another lime wedge over the glass and drop it in.
50 ml Bénédictine
White grapefruit juice
Pour the Bénédictine into a tall glass, fill with ice cubes and top up with the freshly squeezed white grapefruit juice. Garnish with the grapefruit slice.