I'm always on the hunt for a great Benedictine cocktail, so I felt very lucky last week to wander into Lloyd Martin on the very day that bartender Tyler Kingdon introduced his "Finian's Wake."
The drink is a travelogue of a sort, charting James Joyce's course from Ireland, as represented by Finian's Irish whiskey, to France, where the featured Byrrh (a red wine apertif) and Benedictine originated. The whole soulful mix is knotted together by curacao, and is so tremendously good that I could smell its deliciousness while violating the house ban on "devices" to snap this picture.
Benedictine is especially right for winter, perhaps because the liqueur's so complex that it's conceptually filling. And its most prominent ingredients - the complete list of which has been kept secret since a Benedictine monk created the recipe in 1510 - are Old World herbs and honey, neither of which I associate with a sunny summer day.
The mix includes saffron, citrus, vanilla and cognac, which has inspired cocktail writers such as the Washington Post's Jason Wilson to describe Benedictine as the antithesis of shiny new liquors subjected to multiple distillings and chemical treatments. While I think Wilson's right to celebrate the spirit's yesteryear flavors, I'm not sure if Benedictine is as far removed from flavored vodkas as he claims: Saffron and citrus were surely as fetishized in the sixteenth-century as bacon and glazed doughnuts today.
The Vieux Carre is the most common outlet for Benedictine, but drinks writers including Wilson and Paul Clarke have compiled other classic recipes, including the Antibes, made with gin, Benedictine and grapefruit juice, and the Widow's Kiss, featuring yellow Chartreuse and Calvados, for a double seasonal hit. At Rumba, bartenders add Benedictine to rum, yellow Chartreuse, Carpano Antica and bitters for a Coin Toss. And Trace mixes a San Francisco Sling of gin, Benedictine, Fernet Branca and sweet vermouth.
I've typically settled for asking for something like a Manhattan with benedictine, allowing them to adjust the ingredients and proportions as they choose. But Kingdon's newest list addition suggests bartenders are already fooling with Benedictine - and may have developed cocktails as finely-tuned as the "Finian's Wake." What's your favorite local take on Benedictine?
(And, stop the presses: Literally three minutes after I filed this post last Friday, Sun Liquor tweeted the looker from its new cocktail menu. The Copper John's made from bourbon, Benedictine, Italian vermouth, Angostura and lemon. Keep it coming, barkeeps.)