Cocktail consultant, Liquid Productions
Co-owner, Pacific Standard
Co-owner, Clover Club, Leyenda, and Milady’s
Prominently featured in a wide range of classic cocktails from the Vieux Carré to the Singapore Sling, Benedictine is steeped in history, having been first created over 500 years ago. A preeminent example of the herbal liqueur category, its recipe remains a closely guarded secret, but our tasting panel agrees that this standout bottling tastes as good served neat or on the rocks as it does in mixed drinks.
Classification: Herbal liqueur
Company: Bacardí Limited
Distillery: Le Palais Bénédictine (Fécamp, France)
Still Type: Copper
Cask: Eight months in oak barrels, four months in oak tanks
Essential for cocktail enthusiasts who want to mix classic like the Vieux Carré or Singapore Sling
Can be sipped neat or over ice
Less expensive than other category competitors, like Chartreuse
Most cocktails only call for a small amount
The 40% ABV is relatively high for a liqueur, which can complicate use in certain mixed drinks
Color: Pale, golden, clear
Nose: Baking spices (like cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves), honey, green walnut, orange oils, tellicherry peppercorns with citrus peel aromas, fresh white flowers and blossoms
Palate: Honey, stewed fruits and spices, vanilla, herbs
Finish: Long and rich, with notes of herbs, pine, chocolate, coffee, black peppercorns, and honey
Similar bottles: Strega, Chartreuse, Galliano, Licor 43
Suggested uses: Vieux Carré, Singapore Sling, Benedictine and Brandy, served neat in a snifter or on the rocks, highball with a lemon twist
If you’re a classic cocktail enthusiast, chances are you’ve tried Benedictine. The French liqueur lends its herbal complexity and rich honeyed notes to a range of drinks, from the Vieux Carré to the Singapore Sling.
While the exact 27 ingredients in Benedictine are a closely held secret, they lend the liqueur plenty of herbal complexity. Our reviewers discerned notes of honey, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla, citrusy black peppercorns, and white flowers.
“It’s beautifully complex, with a big, full, rich mid-palate sweetness,” says Jeffrey Morgenthaler. “It’s impossible to pick out one single flavor, since this is a blend of dozens of spices and herbs.”
Our tasting panel unanimously loved the long, rich finish. “It’s not cloying on the finish like many sweet liqueurs,” says Julie Reiner. “It is clearly a very high-quality brandy base.” Jacques Bezuidenhout adds that the finish has a bright zing from the alcohol.
All our reviewers noted that Benedictine is a mixable, versatile liqueur that works well in classic cocktails, but also observed that it remains excellent served neat in a snifter, or on the rocks. “The alcohol content and price are not nearly as terrifying as Green Chartreuse, and yet provide quite a similar experience,” says Morgenthaler.
According to Reiner, those who enjoy high-quality ports, sherries, or vermouths over ice are likely to enjoy Benedictine. Calling herself a “big fan,” she also recommends it in a highball with soda or tonic water, and a lemon slice or twist.
“Adding a teaspoon to an Old Fashioned will add spice and pair well with whiskey, scotch, and aged rum,” says Reiner.
If you only plan to use Benedictine for cocktails, Reiner recommends buying a 350-milliliter bottle, as most recipes call for only a small amount. But our reviewers emphasized the liqueur’s ability to stand, and be sipped, on its own.
“In the pantheon of herbal liqueurs, particularly European herbal liqueurs, Benedictine is right around the top for me,” says Morgenthaler. “It sits alongside the Chartreuse family as one of the all-time greats.”
There are only three copies of Benedictine D.O.M.’s secret 27-ingredient recipe in existence, and although the Le Grand family has revealed saffron and angelica to be two of them, the remaining 25 ingredients are closely guarded. Commonly assumed botanicals include hyssop, lemon balm, myrhh, juniper, aloe, arnica, and cinnamon, though these remain impossible to verify.
Today, four separate batches of the herbs and spices are distilled in copper pot stills dating back to Le Grand’s time at the Palais Bénédictine, then aged in oak barrels for eight months and blended with honey and saffron. The new blend is heated, then rests for four months in an oak tank before filtering and bottling. The resulting liquid is encased in a bottle that features the coat of arms of the Benedictine Abbey and the motto DOM: Deo Optimo Maximo, or God infinitely good, infinitely great. It is also a nod to Dominus (Master), the name given to Benedictine abbots.
Benedictine predates many of the famous cocktails it’s a component of by centuries, although it was nearly lost to history. In 1510, the Benedictine monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli developed the liqueur as a health elixir at the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy, France. The recipe disappeared during the French Revolution, but in 1863, wine trader Alexandre Le Grand was said to have found it in his library and set out to recreate Vincelli’s elixir—with a few tweaks.
Benedictine was first imported to the U.S. in 1888, and in 1905, Le Grand oversaw the construction of the Palais Bénédictine, a feat of Gothic and Renaissance architecture in Fécamp where the spirit is still distilled today.
—Written and edited by Audrey Morgan
Benedictine is made in a palace that doubles as a landmark attraction. The Palais Bénédictine was built in 1905 in Fécamp, France, and features the Le Grand family’s art collection, which includes old books, sculptures, wrought ironwork, and more. Both the museum and distillery are open for tours.
The Bottom Line
Any bartender who wants to nail the classics should have Benedictine on hand. The storied French liqueur lends its honeyed, herbal notes to classic cocktails like the Vieux Carré, Benedictine and Brandy, and Singapore Sling. It also can be sipped neat in a snifter or over ice, and will likely appeal to fans of high-quality liqueurs, vermouths, and ports.