Chartreuse (green & yellow)
Chartreuse is a French liqueur made by the Carthusian Monks since the 1740s. It is composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbal extracts. The liqueur is named after the Monks’ Grande Chartreuse monastery, located in the Chartreuse Mountains in the general region of Grenoble in France. The liqueur is produced in a factory in the nearby town of Voiron (Isère).
Chartreuse gives its name to the color chartreuse. It is one of the handful of liquors that continues to age and improve in the bottle.
Unlike the yellow Chartreuse, the green variety of this French herb liqueur has a much spicier and stronger flavor. The recipe is based on a formula for an “elixir of life”, which an unknown alchemist in the Middle Ages first wrote down. Over the next centuries, the good monks in the monastery La Grande Chartreuse constantly refined and improved the drink (hence the name).
This mild herb liqueur traces its origins back to the monastery La Grande Chartreuse, located near the French city of Grenoble. The monks took standard brandy and added up to 130 different herbs, creating in the process an elixir which many call the “King of Liqueurs”.
The two types of Chartreuse are:
It’s 110 proof (55% ABV) made with 132 herbal extracts and is very dark green in color. The color is actually from chlorophyll which is found in plants to give it its green color. This Chartreuse is very aromatic and has a strong herbal nose. You can really pick up some vegetal notes and the flora that has been used in the distillation. It balances very in classic cocktails especially the Last Word. The recipe is a secret that is known by only three monks. Only they know the quantities and sorts of plants and flowers that are to be used to create the liquor.
The Yellow Chartreuse is also completely natural. It is milder and sweeter in flavor and smell than its green counterpart. The light yellow color comes from Saffron that is added into the recipe. It was introduced to the world in 1838. The alcohol content is 40 percent alcohol (80° proof US).
Also made by the monks of Chartreuse are:
V.E.P. stands for Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé. When translated it means “exceptionally prolonged aging”. There are two different styles, Green and Yellow that range from 108 proof (54% ABV) to 84 proof (42% ABV). This exceptional elixir was released to the world in 1963 and is aged in oak casks to smooth and mellow out the beautiful flavors that you can pick up on your nose and palate. It is made from select Green and Yellow Chartreuse that is ready to be bottled and then put back into oak casks. I highly recommend the Green for sipping after dinner.
Elixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse (142 proof or 71%)
The same base of about 130 medicinal and aromatic plants and flowers; far stronger. It can be described as a cordial or a liqueur, and is claimed to be a tonic. Sold in small wooden-covered bottles.
Liqueur du 9° Centenaire (47%)
Created in 1984 to commemorate the 900 year anniversary of the foundation of the abbey. It is similar to Green Chartreuse but slightly sweeter.
Chartreuse 1605 – Liqueur d’Elixir (56%)
Created to commemorate the return of a mysterious manuscript concerning an elixir of long life to the Carthusian monks by Marshal François Annibal d’Estrées.
White Chartreuse (30%)
Produced and sold between 1860 and 1900.
Furthermore, the monks make a “Génépi”. Génépi is the general term in the Alps for a homemade or local liquor featuring local mountain flora. (There are hundreds or even thousands of different Genepi liquors made, many simply by families for their own use each year.) As they have been making Charteuse from local plants for centuries, the monks have recently (2000s) made a Génépi as a sideline product. It is labelled “Génépi des Pêres Chartreux” and is generally only available locally in a 70cl bottle, usually labelled 40% alcohol.
Chartreuse has a very strong characteristic taste. It is very sweet, but becomes both spicy and pungent. It is comparable to other herbal liqueurs such as Galliano, Liquore Strega or Kräuterlikör, though it is distinctively more vegetal. Like other liqueurs, its flavor is sensitive to serving temperature. If straight it can be served very cold but is often served at room temperature. It also features in some cocktails. Some mixed drink recipes call for only a few drops of Chartreuse due to the assertive flavor. It is popular in French ski resorts where it is mixed with hot chocolate and called Green Chaud.
According to tradition, a marshal of artillery to French king Henry IV, François Hannibal d’Estrées, presented the Carthusian monks at Vauvert, near Paris, with an alchemical manuscript that contained a recipe for an “elixir of long life” in 1605. The recipe eventually reached the religious order’s headquarters at the Grande Chartreuse monastery, in Voiron, near Grenoble. It has since then been used to produce the “Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse”. The formula is said to call for 130 herbs, flowers, and secret ingredients combined in a wine alcohol base. The monks intended their liqueur to be used as medicine. The recipe was further enhanced in 1737 by Brother Gérome Maubec.
The beverage soon became popular, and in 1764 the monks adapted the elixir recipe to make what is now called Green Chartreuse. In 1793, the monks were expelled from France, and manufacture of the liqueur ceased. Several years later they were allowed to return. In 1838, they developed Yellow Chartreuse, a sweeter, 40% alcohol (80 proof) liqueur, colored with saffron.
The monks were again expelled from the monastery following a French law in 1903, and their real property, including the distillery, was confiscated by the government. The monks took their secret recipe to their refuge in Tarragona, Spain, and began producing their liqueurs with the same label, but with an additional label which said Liqueur fabriquée à Tarragone par les Pères Chartreux (“liquor manufactured in Tarragona by the Carthusian Fathers”).
At the same time, a corporation in Voiron that obtained the Chartreuse assets produced a liqueur without benefit of the monks’ recipe which they sold as Chartreuse, but all attempts to reproduce real Chartreuse failed. Sales were very poor, and by 1927 the production company faced bankruptcy, and its shares became nearly worthless. A group of local businessmen in Voiron bought all the shares at a low price and sent them as a gift to the monks in Tarragona.
After regaining possession of the distillery, the Carthusian brothers returned to the monastery with the tacit approval of the French government and began to produce Chartreuse once again. Despite the eviction law, when a mudslide destroyed the distillery in 1935, the French government assigned Army engineers to relocate and rebuild it at a location near Voiron where the monks had previously set up a distribution point. After World War II, the government lifted the expulsion order, making the Carthusian brothers once again legal French residents.
Today, the liqueurs are produced in Voiron using the herbal mixture prepared by two monks at Grande Chartreuse. Other related alcoholic beverages are manufactured in the same distillery (e.g. Génépi). The exact recipes for all forms of Chartreuse remain trade secrets and are known at any given time only to the two monks who prepare the herbal mixture. Chartreuse is also used as an addition to other drinks.
Chartreuse liquors generally have performed very well at international spirit ratings competitions. The basic green offering has won silver and double gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It has also earned an above-average score of 93 from the Beverage Testing Institute and has been given scores in the 96-100 interval by Wine Enthusiast.The VEP Green and VEP Yellow have generally earned similarly impressive scores. The basic Yellow Chartreuse has received more modest (though still average or above) ratings.
How to drink Chartreuse
It can be drunken after dinner but more and more people appreciate it as a long drink.It is consumed very cold ideally on ice. They can also be used as a component for some cocktails.