Much like the iconic French elixir, Chartreuse, Bénédictine was initially billed as a medicinal tonic. But with only 27 botanicals and spices compared to Chartreuse’s 130, it offers a subtler profile that makes for a more versatile ingredient; it doesn’t announce itself in a drink the same way Chartreuse does, notes Boelte, who describes Bénédictine’s flavor as “more rounded.”
Its presence in cocktails, he adds, is akin to that of Angostura bitters, an ingredient that’s not immediately identifiable when mixed but nonetheless lends balance to a drink. “Pretty much everything has Angostura bitters in it, so we’re kind of conditioned to [that flavor],” Boelte explains, “but, if you took it out, we’d notice there’s an imbalance.”
While Bénédictine plays a supporting role in several classics, like New Orleans’ Vieux Carré (and Jim Meehan’s modern riff, the De La Louisiane), Boelte likes to expand on the liqueur’s repertoire. “I’ve cooked with it, I’ve done tiki, I’ve done classics, I just drink it on its own” he says, adding that before he gave up caffeine last year, he would even add it to his espresso and tea in place of sweeteners. (In fact, it’s the secret ingredient in Boelte’s personal Hot Toddy recipe, invented on a camping trip, in which Bénédictine takes the place of honey, citrus and spices for an especially pared down rendition.)
Plus, says Boelte, “It’s been around for over 500 years, and that’s pretty badass.”
Bénédictine, Three Ways
In stirred drinks, Bénédictine adds texture and body, but Boelte notes that, much like Chartreuse, a little goes a long way. “The most I’ve ever really used,” he explains, “is half an ounce or maybe three quarters of an ounce.” In the Montgomery Smith, one of Boelte’s favorite drinks, which was created by Nate Dumas of PDT, a half ounce of Bénédictine complements a base of Cognac and a measure of Fernet-Branca in what reads like an updated B&B.
In most sour formulas, the honeyed flavors found in Bénédictine can take the place of traditional sweeteners, and add a level of complexity. Here, in a similar construction to the Sidecar, Bénédictine stands in for Cointreau, while Armagnac takes the place of Cognac. As for the name, it’s a play on the Farmer’s Almanac, the most ubiquitous bedside book apart from the Bible, says Boelte, in his home state of Oklahoma.
As Boelte explains, just a hint of Bénédictine can announce itself in a drink, and serve to round out other flavors. In this tall Collins from bartender Brad Farran, one teaspoon of the herbal liqueur stands up to the assertive, bittersweet flavors of Campari. Built on a gin base, the drink is tied together with tangy pomegranate molasses and topped with soda water.