The Derby Cocktail

Benedictine by Alphonse MuchaWhether it is a race or a hat, there is a Derby cocktail for any occasion and they are all different. Embury’s version with gin and peach brandy, de Gastreaux’s gin and mint, Vermeire’s brandy and champagne, or Trader Vic’s bourbon, vermouth and lime juice. This version is different still, using bourbon and Benedictine.

If you are not familiar with Benedictine, you should be. This sweet, herbaceous liqueur makes an excellent addition to cocktails, though it is little employed. A distillation of herbs, spirits, and “divers secret elixirs,” Benedictine was distilled for centuries by the Benedictine monks at the Frécamp Abby in Normandy, France, until it was destroyed during the French Revolution. Well…no, actually. But, hey, what’s wrong with a little creative advertising!

Benedictine was actually developed during the mid 19th century by Alexandre Le Grand (Alexander the great, no less!) who was as good at marketing as he was at making liqueurs. The new (old) elixir with the distinctive bottle and “D.O.M.” on the label (Deo, Optimo, Maximo: to God, most good, most great) flew off the shelves. Le Grand knew what he was doing. 

2 oz Bourbon Whiskey

¼ oz Benedictine

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice then strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Benedictine is fairly delicate when mixed, so I advise going heavy on that 1/4 oz. The drink is quite boozy anyway, so a little extra won’t hurt. Also, make sure you use Benedictine and not B&B, which is Benedictine and brandy.

Benedictine: first compounded by Dom Bernardo Vincelli (no evidence of his existence), and endorsed by King Francis I during a stop over at the abby (no record that Francis visited Frécamp). Alexandre Le Grand might have been a little loose with the facts concerning his most famous liqueur, but all that grandeur just makes it taste that much better, don’t you think?

Foy de gentilhomme! Oncques n’en goustai de meilleur!—François I, Roi de France