Benedictine, or D.O.M. as it is commonly referred as, is believed to be one of the oldest and most famous of today's liqueurs.
At the Benedictine abbey at FÈcamp in France, some time around 1510, there happened to be a Venetian monk knowledgeable in spices, up-to-date on Dutch distillation methods and as it turned out, capable of transforming the traditional bitter medicines of the abbey into a delicious 'Elixir of Health' that has stood the test of time and come down to us as Benedictine.Francis I was said to have exclaimed: "Upon my word, we have never tasted the like."
The recipe of Don Bernardo Vincelli was said to have restored listless brothers and countered illnesses of the stomach. It is made from 27 herbs and spices, among them thyme, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg and other more exotic ingredients such as hyssop, angelica and cardamom. These are pre-combined in four different combinations which are macerated in spirit, distilled in copper stills, and aged separately in oak for three months. The final Liqueur is made by marrying the four extracts in a certain proportion and then aging some more.
The French revolution dispersed the Abbey and its monks.
Benedictine was officially extinct until the 1860's, when it was resurrected by Philippe La Grande. On finding the recipe among a bundle of yellowing papers, he was inspired to build an extraordinary new distillery in the high Gothic style at FeCamp. Today the family-owned corporation still produces Benedictine. Although no longer connected with the Monks, nevertheless, to recognize its past connection with the abbey every bottle is marked with 'D.O.M. - Deo Optimo Maximo' (Praise be to God, Most Good, Most Great). D.O.M. Benedictine is a bright yellow/gold color with a sweet aromatic taste. Its color and strong alcoholic content is the result of a long aging process. Benedictine is three years in the making and must be aged for a further four years.
Chartreuse, is the 'quintessential' medicinal elixir, turned into liqueur.
Unlike Benedictine, Chartreuse is still made by monks - of the 'Carthusian order'. Expelled from France at the time of the French Revolution, the order was allowed back into the mother country after the defeat of Napoleon, only to be kicked out again in 1903 to set up the second address at Tarragona, in eastern Spain, where it continued production until 1991 when it was finally re-established back in France.
Around 1720, the apothecary brother of the congregation of monks, Brother Jerome Maubec was looking, as they had for centuries, for the elixir of long life. In the bowels of the library, he found an old text given to the monks in 1605. Referred to as 'Elixir', it was sold in miniature bottles at a truly Catholic alcoholic content: 71%. Its origins were traceable to a certain Marshall of the King's artillery, a Monsieur Francois Hannibal d'Estrees. By now the monks were aware of the commercial success of liquor-making, and Brother Jerome labored to produce an elixir of long life that would also make the monastery rich. He never saw the fruits of his labors realized, but he passed his knowledge on to Brother Antoine. This worthy monk produced in 1755 the first 'draft', so to speak, the "Elixir Vegetale de la Grand Chartreuse", a very medicinal item, (and still made today) which was followed a few years later by (according to a recipe still used today) the celebrated Green Chartreuse, which the monks baptized 'the liqueur of health'.
Today Chartreuse is principally sold in two incarnations: 'Green Chartreuse' (55%) - a pale leafy green color with a less pungent herbal scent and is distinctly less viscous and 'Yellow Chartreuse' (40%) - a deep greenish-yellow hue, sweet, honeyed and slightly minty in flavor. Additionally, the order produces a rare higher grade of each color, labeled VEP, for 'veillissement exceptionnellement prolognÈ' (exceptionally long ageing).
Drambuie come from the Gaelic 'An dram Buideach' which means "the drink that satisfies". Drambuie is Scotland's (and for that matter, Britain's) pre-eminent contribution to the world's classic liqueurs. It is a unique and inimitable concoction of Scotch whisky, heather honey and herbs.
The story has inevitably been debunked by meticulous historians; however it is believed that its origins go back more than two centuries to the time when Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) after being soundly beaten in the 'Battle Of Culloden' by the English troops in 1745 had taken refuge on the Isle of Skye. One of his attendants had brought with him a recipe for his master's favorite Liqueur; the recipe for what is now known as Drambuie. The Prince was being hunted by the English and a price for capture was on his head. One of the Prince's Highland friends, Captain MacKinnon, protected the Prince from capture and helped the Prince escape back to France. In gratitude the Prince presented MacKinnon with the recipe.
The MacKinnon family has continued to produce Drambuie generation after generation, though near Edinburgh now, rather than on Skye. They registered the name Drambuie in 1892, and were in private produ ction since near the time of the Bonnie Prince, but the Liqueur was only launched commercially in 1906 - with spectacular success. Drambuie can justifiably claim to be another of the oldest Liqueurs.
In 1827, outside of Paris, in the tranquil village of 'Neauphle-Le-Chateau', Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle, a wine and spirit merchant and founder of the "Lapostolle Family Distillery", had acquired a reputation for producing fine Generic Liqueurs. His son Eugene wasn't content with this reputation and in the 1870s personally visited the Cognac region of France and equaled his father's reputation by becoming an astute businessman and Connoisseur.
He managed to secure part ownership in the production of some exceptional brandies, and his product received great popularity throughout Paris which at the time was once again tasting the delights of luxury which were denied to them during the recent Franco-Prussian war.
Eugene's Son-in-Law, Louis Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle continued the search for an innovative Liqueur in particular trying oranges and fine Cognac. Eventually he ended a three-generation family quest for 'Ultimate Perfection' coming up with a liqueur based on wild bitter oranges and Cognac. This new Liqueur was shown to Cesar Ritz (the famous Hotel owner), who joking named it "Grand Marnier". Louis Alexandre liked the name immediately and Grand Marnier was born.
Jean-Baptiste could not have dreamed that what he began in 1827 would become one of the world's great Liqueurs with a bottle bearing his name being sold to someone, somewhere in the world every two seconds. Each year, these days, 1,200 tons of dried and quartered orange peels arrive in sacks partly from the family 300-Hectare plantation on the Island of Haiti, where they grow the bitter 'Bigarade' orange (of Dutch merchant fame).
On the morning of December 8, 1895 the Italian troops under the command of Major Giuseppe Galliano were defending the fort of 'Edna Jesus', near the ancient city of Makelle in Ethiopia when they were surrounded and decimated by 80,000 Abyssinians. The courage that the Italian troops showed was, however, praised throughout Italy. As a sign of admiration of this bravery an owner of a spirit factory, Arturo Vaccari, decided to name a new creation in honor of the Italian Major. The fame of Galliano Liqueur quickly spread. As we are becoming accustomed to hearing in the world of liqueurs, the exact recipe of Galliano is a carefully guarded secret, but it is believed to be composed of more than eighty ingredients including Herbs, Berries, Roots and Flowers, most of which come from Alpine regions. The method of production has remained unchanged since Arturo Vaccari first instituted it all those years ago.
Galliano has a sharp, yet sweet flavor with a hint of aniseed. It has a strong aroma and sends off fumes to signal its presence to both the nose and the eyes. One of the best known cocktail examples with a strong Galliano component is the 'Harvey Wallbanger' which is believed to be named after a Californian surfer and wharf worker. After a particularly rough day on the waves, Harvey would adjourn to his favorite bar, proceed to down quantities of his own favorite concoction, and in due course use himself as a pinball on his way to the door: Harvey's Wallbanger.
Cream liqueurs are an ever-expanding category in the contemporary market. Whether marketers acknowledge it or not, cream liqueurs all owe something of their inspiration and appeal to the popular Baileys Irish Cream. Baileys itself is a blend of Irish whiskey and cream, flavored with a light coffee. It became suddenly chic in the 1970s, but was quickly saddled with the image of the kind of soft svelte drink that unscrupulous males plied on unsuspecting females in nightclubs. Since then, cream liqueurs have gone on multiplying. Coffee and chocolate flavorings are particularly common. In fact some of the popular cream liqueurs are made by confectionary companies (Cadbury's).
Of all the liqueurs that rely on almonds for their principle flavoring, Amaretto is the most famous. The flavor is not entirely derived from almonds but from the stones of apricots too. It is strong and sweet and quite assertive even when mixed in a cocktail. Legend has it that the recipe was given to an Italian painter, Bernardino Luini, in the 16th century.