2½ oz gin
½ oz dry vermouth
½ oz sweet vermouth
heavy teaspoon Bénédictine
1 dash orange bitters - optional
lemon peel for garnish
The Rolls Royce brand of luxury automobiles has long been sold under the slogan “the best car in the world.” So any cocktail assuming that name would have its work cut out for it, but this one is up to the challenge. It is a picture of elegance and sophistication.
Appropriately, it’s a Martini variation, and one of my favorite in that category. The deviations are simple, but the drink is a wholly different experience. The addition of sweet vermouth gives it the roundness of a Martinez, and the dash of Benedictine - a French herbal liqueur - adds just enough complexity without making things too busy.
This recipe first appeared in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. The original called for 2 parts gin, and 1 part each of sweet and dry vermouth. I like to increase the gin and lower the vermouth to make it a more bracing cocktail, like a classic Martini. The orange bitters are purely my own addition, but they fit right in as if they've always been there.
Any gin and vermouth combo will work great, though if given an option, I’d go with a more delicate gin like Plymouth, which is also my go-to for a Martini. For vermouth, I like Dolin Rouge or Antica a lot.
I admit, calling for a heavy teaspoon - which means a teaspoon that’s slightly spilling over - is a bit overly meticulous, even for me. But that's the one that hits the sweet spot. A teaspoon is a hair dry and too gin forward, a ¼ oz (or even scant ¼ oz) is a hair too rich. With a heavy teaspoon, everything comes into focus, Goldilocks style. Here's a little more on measuring with teaspoons and barpsoons.
Rolls Royce History - The Car, Not the Cocktail
The original Rolls-Royce car company, called Rolls-Royce Limited, was founded in 1904 and it has had a diverse and winding history ever since. In 1914 they began manufacturing aero engines in addition to cars, but that branch is now a separate company called Rolls-Royce holdings. Rolls-Royce also acquired Bentley cars in the early 1930s, but those are now made by Volkswagen. In fact, the original Rolls-Royce business no longer exists, Rolls-Royce cars are made by BMW. I’ll stop here because this has nothing to do with cocktails, but if you’re curious head over to Wikipedia just to see the multiple companies the original manufacturer has splintered into over the last century. Very interesting.
Bénédictine is an iconic French herbal liqueur that's used in several classic cocktails. It is flavored with 27 herbs and spices. Its prominent flavors include honey - which also provides sweetness, warm baking spices - particularly nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla, with some citrusy herbal notes, notably saffron, angelica, lemon balm, and hyssop.
It is similar in some ways to Chartreuse, another famous French liqueur made by monks (though that’s actually true in the case of Chartreuse, more on history below), but Chartreuse’s herbaceousness is more intense, bright and piney. Bénédictine is quite a bit mellower in comparison, which makes it a very versatile mixer. It’s pairs great with a variety of spirits and flavors without asserting itself too prominently. I particularly like using it with whiskey, as I do in two of my Manhattan variations the Bay Ridge and Rhapsody in Rye.
At 40% ABV, Bénédictine has the same strength of a spirit, which helps carry it’s flavors in a cocktail. It’s also pretty well circulated and should be available at most liquor stores. You can’t miss the bottle with its uniquely regal shape and red wax seal. The DOM on the label stands for the latin phrase Deo Optimo Maxio, meaning “to the greatest and best God” or something in that fashion.
It's on the pricier side to be sure, but a worthwhile investment. Plus, you’ll only use a little at a time - as exemplified in the above recipe - so one bottle will last awhile. They're also available in smaller 375 ml bottles, which is convenient if you can find one.
History of Bénédictine
Bénédictine is said to be over 500 years old, but it’s probably not. It’s modern inventor Alexandre Le Grande, who released the product commercially in 1863, claims it’s based on a recipe he found in an old text from 1510, specifically attributed to a monk named Don Bernardo Vincelli of the Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy. that's why you often hear references to Bénédictine's affiliation with monks.
Monks certainly have a history of producing alcoholic beverages over the centuries. For example, the aforementioned Chartreuse is made by Carthusian monks, also from France, and has been since 1737.
Though the lack of any proof to Le Grande's Bénédictine monk story means it is probably an exaggeration, or all out fabrication, purely invented to boost sales. He certainly succeeded though. Le Grande was a master at marketing, from the shape of the bottle to the embellished history, it all worked. It doesn’t hurt that the juice is pretty darn good too.
B & B
B & B, is a blend of Bénédictine and Brandy (Cognac), and another member of the Bénédictine line. This pairing rose to popularity in bars in the 1930s and the company decided to take advantage by offering it themselves, so it’s essentially a bottled cocktail. I haven’t worked with it much, I prefer to do my own blending of liqueurs and spirits. In a pinch, you could probably use it in place of Bénédictine, it just won’t be quite as sweet or potent. In general, I’d stick with the original.