I don't know much about monks. I picture them in drafty old stone buildings praying, reading, studying and singing. Having decided to withdraw from mainstream society and dedicate their lives to religion I also imagine them moving through the days, weeks and months with an air of profound solemnity. I doubt much of this is accurate since it's based largely on movies and a couple of books. Still though, I can't shake the notion that the monastic life is a rather somber endeavor. And yet, I have to shake it, at least a little because they have made some truly amazing contributions to the world of alcohol. Trappist ales, Chartreuse, Benedictine...there are probably others but this post will focus on the latter two herbal liqueurs. There are drinks below, feel free to skip ahead. I only set out to write about the Bobby Burns and Tipperary but then I started to dwell on the liqueur component and, well, this thing got a lot longer.

The history of liqueurs goes back to the middle ages when herbs, spices and fruits were added to alcohol which was then sweetened to offset some of the bitterness imparted by the botanicals. Monks, who spent a great deal of time studying the various properties of plants, were thought to be some of the earliest creators of liqueurs. It allowed them to utilize the knowledge they had accrued about the health benefits of certain plants. Liqueurs were initially concocted as a palliative and enabled monks to ease the suffering of those with various ailments. There is also a theory that liqueurs were created to mask the flavors of a particularly bad distillate. There's probably some truth there as well - no one ever likes to dump a bunch of alcohol down the drain.

The Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps created Chartreuse several hundred years ago. It now comes in a few varieties. The most common versions are green and yellow. Green is stronger at 110 proof while the yellow is softer and smoother with a proof of 80. The recipe for Chartreuse is kept secret. Except that there's 130 plants and herbs involved. Both green and yellow are available in aged versions as well. Those are labeled V.E.P. and will cost an additional $100 or so. The original Chartreuse, Elixir Vegetal, is based on a recipe given to the monks in 1605 (it appears they didn't do much with it until 1737). Elixir Vegetal is 138 proof and comes in small 100 ml bottles. It is often used like bitters or taken by the spoonful with a sugar cube - which does sound like good medicine. Unfortunately, Elixir Vegetal is incredibly hard to come by in the US. I've never tried it but sometimes bottles pop up online. Or at least used to. 

Grande Chartreuse Monastery. Photo by Renauld Camus, Creative Commons

Grande Chartreuse Monastery. Photo by Renauld Camus, Creative Commons

The recipe for Green Chartreuse that is available today was formulated in 1764 though shifts in the political climate impacted the monk's production and location. In the late 18th century the French Revolution saw the expulsion of monks from all religious orders and disrupted the manufacture of Chartreuse. When production resumed in 1838 they also began making Yellow Chartreuse. Political factors impacted the monks again in 1903 when the government cracked down on alcohol producers. The monks moved to Spain and began distilling and creating their liqueur there. Eventually, almost 40 years later, their monastery was returned to them and they were able to resume production in France.

Benedictine's origin is somewhat murkier. It is a widely held belief that Benedictine was created by monks of the same name in the early 16th century. The story continues that the French Revolution wreaked havoc on them as well. By the end of the 18th century their possessions had been taken over by the state and production of the liqueur had been halted. Then, in the 1860s, Alexander Le Grand discovered the recipe, made some modifications, and resumed its production. Wikipedia, citing an interview with a descendent of Le Grande suggests the connection of the 1863 recipe (Benedictine as we now know it) with monks from the 1500s was all invented as an elaborate marketing scheme. It's Wikipedia so who knows, but then Wayne Curtis echoed that opinion in his piece for The Atlantic. 

Le Grand was quick to understand the value in cultivating a specific image for his product. Alphonse Mucha created this art nouveau poster. Image by MCAD Library, Creative Commons.

Le Grand was quick to understand the value in cultivating a specific image for his product. Alphonse Mucha created this art nouveau poster. Image by MCAD Library, Creative Commons.

It's hard to say for sure whether or not the Benedictine monk narrative is valid. Monks had manuscripts and kept journals and definitely mixed liqueurs. Could the French Revolution have put Le Grand's grandfather in possession of a notebook with the basis of the Benedictine recipe? Maybe. It's possible. One thing is for sure - it's delicious. Compared to the intensely herbal and warming Chartreuse, Benedictine has a softer, sweeter, honey and vanilla quality enhanced by additional herbs including coriander, tea, lemon peel, hyssop, and myrrh. Like Chartreuse, the recipe for Benedictine is a secret although instead of 130 herbs Benedictine reportedly uses 27.

Alright then, time for some drinks.

Bobby Burns on the left, Tipperary right.

Bobby Burns on the left, Tipperary right.

Bobby Burns - Scotch, Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, Lemon Twist
Tipperary - Irish Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Green Chartreuse

Like most of the cocktail-drinking planet I have a soft spot for the Manhattan. Everyone has their favorite version/ratios and there are numerous worthwhile spinoffs. These two drinks modify the tried and true whiskey/vermouth combo with herbal liqueurs. The base whiskey isn't bourbon or rye which distances it further from the Manhattan family. They're classics though, and tasty. The Bobby Burns accents Scotch and sweet vermouth with Benedictine. The Tipperary uses Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth and a little bit of Green Chartreuse.

Also - While the Bobby Burns is worth mixing up any time, this Saturday, January 25th, is Burns Night (or Robert/Robbie Burns Day) the annual celebration of the birth of the famous poet - a perfect time to mix one up and raise a glass to Scotland's favorite son. "Here's a bottle and an honest friend!/What wad [would] you wish for mair [more], man?/Wha [Who] kens [knows] before his life may end,/What his share may be o' care, man?"

Yellow Jacket left, Green Hornet right.

Yellow Jacket left, Green Hornet right.

Yellow Jacket - Reposado Tequila, St. Germain, Yellow Chartreuse, Orange Bitters, Lemon Twist
Green Hornet - Rye, Fernet Branca, Green Chartreuse

The Yellow Jacket is herbal, sweet and floral with a nice tequila backbone. I usually pull back on the St. Germain by 1/4 oz or so. The tequila makes for an interesting base upon which the sweet and herbal qualities of the other ingredients rest. The Green Hornet is made in a ratio of 4:1:1 with a base spirit of rye getting bombarded with herbs. Rich, deep and not too sweet it's tough to go wrong with rye, Fernet and Chartreuse.

1919

1919

1919 - Rum, Rye, Benedictine, Punt e Mes, Mole Bitters, Orange Twist (discard)

Double the contributions by monks here. Well, not quite but this recipe specifies Old Monk for the rum. I keep Old Monk on hand, or try to at least, specifically for this drink from Drink in Boston. Old Monk has the additional bonus of being a rather fantastic looking bottle. This is an aged dark rum from India. It's not overly smooth and that's a good thing. Prominent notes of molasses and vanilla play off of the herbal, sweet and slightly bitter qualities of the Benedictine/Punt e Mes combo. Rye helps anchor things, brings some proof and adds to the pleasant unruliness. Mole bitters contribute their signature bittersweet, chocolaty, spicy goodness. Along with the Left Hand this is one of my favorite drinks for those bitters. Part brown and stirred, part far out, funky and delicious the 1919 is often what I make when I'm not sure exactly what I want. 

Tailspin on the left, Bijou right.

Tailspin on the left, Bijou right.

Tailspin - Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Green Chartreuse, Campari, Lemon Twist
Bijou - Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Green Chartreuse, Orange Bitters, Lemon Twist

The main difference here is the Campari in the Tailspin. It's a nice addition and offsets the sweetness of the original equal parts version of the Bijou. Ordinarily I make the Bijou 3:1:1. It's less heavy and lets the gin stand out more. I went back to equal parts for this experiment though since that's the basis of the Tailspin and probably would have left this version of the Bijou alone if it was late at night or I'd just eaten a large meal. Since it wasn't I added a teaspoon of Cynar. Still a good drink but now I want to try it with the 3:1:1 version. 

Widow's Kiss. From left - Speakeasy, Kappeler, PDT

Widow's Kiss. From left - Speakeasy, Kappeler, PDT

Widow's Kiss - Apple Brandy, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, Angostura

The Speakeasy book was already out after looking up the specs for the Yellow Jacket and I noticed their version of the Widow's Kiss. I usually make this one close to PDT's ratio of 8:1:1 but was intrigued that the Employee's Only version was so close to 1:1:1. Both site George Kappeler's Modern American Drinks (1890) which lists it as 2:1:1. Nothing new here, recipes get changed and modified all the time. It seemed like an experiment was in order since I hold Employee's Only and PDT (and their books) in high regard and this would give me an opportunity to compare the original with two trusted contemporary sources.

The Speakeasy version was sweet with an abundance of herbal qualities which eventually made room for the apples in the Calvados. The apples were more prominent in the PDT version with Chartreuse and Benedictine functioning more as accents than major contributors. Kappeler's version was right in the middle. Plenty of character from the Calvados with the sweet and herbal components close behind. I preferred Kappeler's this go-around but there's a flexibility to this drink which I think allows different iterations to work successfully in various circumstances. Like the equal parts version of the Bijou above, the Speakeasy version lends itself to a digestif/end-of-the-evening style of drink. Earlier in the evening I'll take one of the other two and be just fine.

Tantris Sidecar left, San Martin right.

Tantris Sidecar left, San Martin right.

Tantris Sidecar - Cognac, Calvados, Cointreau, Green Chartreuse, Lemon & Pineapple Juice, Simple Syrup, Lemon Twist
San Martin - Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Yellow Chartreuse, Lemon Twist

The Tantris Sidecar is worth the effort. It's also one of those drinks where you can't really mess with the proportions. So much is going on with this one but it all works. A pair of citrus, a pair of liqueurs and a pair of brandies. Everything registers, everything supports and the result is a very satisfying drink. The San Martin is very similar to the Martinez which is probably why I'm so fond of this drink. Replace the bitters and Maraschino in the Martinez with some Yellow Chartreuse and you're pretty much there. The accent is more herbal and ties in nicely with the vermouth.

Chrysanthemum left, Slide Rule right.

Chrysanthemum left, Slide Rule right.

Chrysanthemum - Dry Vermouth, Benedictine, Absinthe, Orange Twist
Slide Rule - Gin, Suze, Benedictine, Orange Twist

The original recipe for the Chrysanthemum dates back to 1916 and calls for equal parts Dry Vermouth and Benedictine with 3 dashes of absinthe. Most recipes now skew it heavily toward the vermouth. If you have a nice fresh vermouth opting for this approach will enable its attributes to shine more clearly. I usually go 10:3 on this one keeping the dashes of absinthe at 3. The result is a pleasant low alcohol cocktail, light but with some complexity and herbal depth.

The Slide Rule is my own creation. I recently came by a bottle of Suze (thanks Martha!) and have been enjoying mixing with it. For this drink I tried it with various gins but settled on Plymouth which gives it a nice backbone but lets the intense gentian flavor of the Suze play against the smooth, sweet and herbal qualities of the Benedictine. 

Jacko's End left, Shruff's End right.

Jacko's End left, Shruff's End right.

Jacko's End - Mezcal, Apple Brandy, Benedictine, Peychaud's
Shruff's End - Laphroaig, Apple Brandy, Benedictine, Peychaud's

These two drinks by Phil Ward make for an interesting contrast between smoky spirits. The amount of apple brandy, Benedictine and Peychaud's is the same for each drink but Jacko's End uses mezcal whereas Shruff's End employs a smoky Islay scotch. These are both fantastic drinks. Apple brandy and Benedictine work well together and are capable of anchoring a drink with an additional, assertive base spirit. It'd be tough to pick a favorite. There's a little more fruit present in Jacko's End and the overall effect, at least compared to Shruff's End is a bit softer and rounder. Laphroaig is not to be trifled with and it centers Shruff's End with its singular peaty, smoky, briny goodness. There are apples and herbs though creeping in around the edges and lingering nicely on the finish.

 

Recipes:

Bobby Burns - Fancy Drinks, 1902
2 oz Scotch
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 barspoon Benedictine
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Stir, Strain, Up

Tipperary - Hugo Ensslin, Recipes for Mixed Drinks, 1916
2 oz Irish Whiskey
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
Rinse - Green Chartreuse

Stir, Strain, Up

Yellow Jacket - Employee's Only, New York
2 oz Reposado Tequila
1 oz St. Germain
3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1 dash Regan's Orange Bitters
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Stir, Strain, Up

Green Hornet - Thad Vogler, Bourbon and Branch, San Francisco 
2 oz Rye
1/2 oz Fernet Branca
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse

Stir, Strain, Up

1919 - Ben Sandrof, Drink, Boston
1 oz Punt e Mes
3/4 oz Old Monk Rum
3/4 oz Rittenhouse Rye
1/2 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Bittermen's Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Garnish - Orange Peel, express and discard

Stir, Strain, Up

Tailspin - Robert Hess
3/4 oz Gin
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Green Chartreuse
1 dash Campari
Garnish - Lemon Twist, Cherry*

Stir, Strain, Up

Bijou - Harry Johnson, Bartender's Manual, 1900
1 oz Gin
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Green Chartreuse
1 dash Orange Bitters
Garnish - Lemon Twist, Cherry*

Stir, Strain, Up

Widow's Kiss - George Kappeler, Modern American Drinks, 1895
1 1/2 oz Calvados
3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura

Shake, Strain, Up (I can't help it, I usually stir this one)

Tantris Sidecar - Audrey Saunders, Pegu Club, New York
1 1/4 oz Cognac
1/2 oz Calvados
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
1/4 oz Pineapple Juice
1/4 oz Green Chartreuse
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Shake, Strain, Up

San Martin - Robert Vermeire, Cocktails - How to Mix Them, 1922
2 oz Gin
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 tsp Yellow Chartreuse
Garnish - Lemon Twist*

Stir, Strain, Up

Chrysanthemum - Hugo Ensslin, Recipes for Mixed Drinks, 1916
2 1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz Benedictine
3 dashes Absinthe
Garnish - Orange Twist

Stir, Strain, Up

Slide Rule 
2 oz Plymouth Gin
1 oz Suze
+1/4 oz Benedictine
Garnish - Orange Twist

Stir, Strain, Up

Jacko's End - Phil Ward, Mayahuel, New York
1 oz Del Maguey Minero Mezcal
1 oz Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy
1/2 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud's
Garnish - Pear Slice*

Stir, Strain, Up

Shruff's End - Phil Ward, Mayahuel, New York
1 oz Laphroaig
1 oz Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy
1/2 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud's

Stir, Strain, Up

 

*indicates garnishes omitted in the pictures either because I didn't have them on hand (pear slice) or I just spaced them (cherries).

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AuthorTrey