Bénédictine: Ancient Elixir In Your Glass

Pete Capella
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Sometimes the world of alcohol has hidden gems. It is full of rich backstories and surprising origins. For example, a liqueur made from a secret recipe of 27 plants and spices invented in the 1500s by a alchemist monk? Um, yes please. Bénédictine is one of the most unique alcohols on the market with a truly amazing history full of mystery and tradition.

In sixteenth-century Europe, there was a sect of monks that followed the teachings of St. Benedict (known as Benedictine monks). Saint Benedict, as patriarch of the monks of Western Europe, stipulated that his spiritual sons should devote themselves to works of piety – but he also strongly encouraged study. The abbeys, which were the homes of the monks, were both citadels of prayer and work centres. In the Fécamp Abbey located in Normandy, France, the Benedictine monks were particularly interested in the techniques of distillation and the study of plants. Because of their geographical location, it allowed the monks to find medical plants such as angelica, hyssop or melissa on the cliffs above the beaches. One monk in particular, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, was an expert in the lost art of alchemy. Vincelli applied his techniques to herbalism and created the recipe that what would later become Bénédictine.

Vincelli’s elixir recipe was lost with the onslaught of the French Revolution in 1789. Miraculously, in 1863 the recipe was rediscovered. As the last monk was forced to flee the abbey, he gave a member of the Fécamp family what he considered to be some of the monk’s most important books. These books went untouched for almost a century. That is until Alexandre Le Grande, a member of an old Fécamp family and an expert in alcohols, rediscovered the books. Included in them was Dom Bernardo Vincelli’s recipe, dated 1510 and written in Gothic script. After nearly a year of deciphering and experimenting with proportions, Le Grande concocted what would come to be known as Bénédictine.

With a history like that, how could you not want to try this ancient medicinal mix? Benedictine is incredible on its own or mixed in cocktails, lending a medicinal sweetness that can’t be replicated by any other liqueur. You never know, drinking Bénédictine just might help you unlock the secrets of the Da Vinci Code.

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