During World War I, fighting along the rocky shores of Normandy wasn’t just harrowing in the heat of battle. The windswept frontlines were often cold, wet, and miserable. Finding warmth and shelter was not an easy task, but at least one group of British soldiers found relief in a sweet and herbaceous local French liqueur known as Bénédictine. After the war, the 11th Battalion from East Lancashire, England, brought their palate for the spirit home. To this day, the Burnley Miners’ Club in Lancashire is one of the largest consumers of Bénédictine in the world. Their drink of choice? A 50/50 mix of Bénédictine and hot water, aptly titled the Bene’n’hot.
The origins of Bénédictine date back much further than the Great War. It all began in 1510 when a Benedictine monk is said to have distilled an elixir of local herbs to raise funds for his abbey in Fécamp, France. Legend has it that the recipe was lost during the upheaval of the French Revolution, only to be rediscovered in 1860 by a wine merchant named Alexandre le Grand. Tweaking the recipe and capitalizing on the Benedictine association, le Grand transformed his sweet, herbal liqueur into a popular tipple and transformed his distillery into an opulent structure known as Le Palais de Bénédictine. Located in Fécamp, the Palais was close to Normandy’s base hospitals during World War I. According to historians, a mixture of the aromatic botanical liqueur and hot water was served as a restorative for wounded soldiers, including those within Lancashire’s 11th Battalion. Taken back to the battlefront, the Bene’n’hot mixture would have also been a way to extend the life of the liqueur, with the bonus of warmth.
Though many members of the 11th Battalion are no longer alive, they’ve passed on their love for the Bene’n’hot to future generations. Today, the local Burnley Miners’ Club orders up to 1,000 bottles of Bénédictine a year, compared to an average bar’s one or two. The century-old club has a dedicated Bénédictine lounge and has sponsored a local guide dog named, of course, Bene. Meanwhile, the drink is so popular in the town that the local soccer team (the Burnley United Football Club, also known as the Clarets) sells the Bene’n’hot at every home game. After 500 years, this monk-inspired, French-adapted tipple has found a home away from home in an unexpected place. And what better way honor its meandering history than with a cross-cultural cocktail?
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