Ask just about anyone what Chartreuse is and they’ll tell you it is a color, a shade of green as a matter of fact. Few people know that Chartreuse is actually a spirit created by monks high in the French Alps which has a history over 400 years in the making.
So, what is Chartreuse and where did it come from?
Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur containing over 125 herbal and plant ingredients created and produced by the Monks of the La Grande Chartreuse Monastery. The recipe is actually based on the writings of a Middle Ages alchemist who described his original concoction as the "elixir of life". It is estimated that the Monks started to develop the recipe in the early 1600s but it was not released for public consumption until sometime in the early to mid 18th century. In other words, the Monks spent over 100 years making, tasting, drinking, and perfecting Chartreuse before making it available to the world.
So what exactly is in Chartreuse?
Only 2 or 3 people in the entire world, all of which are Monks in the La Grande Chartreuse Monastery, could tell you that. To find out you would need to talk to each of them individually, as each only knows a part of the recipe, and you would need to convince them to break their vow of silence, which they took after learning the recipe. In other words it is a closely kept secret.
Case in point, rumor has it that the Monks take keeping the recipe so seriously that when Hitler invaded France they were given a choice, stay and reveal the recipe or leave. They left and did not return until after Hitler’s defeat.
In the end the Monks created two types of Chartreuse, green and yellow, and each has its own distinct flavor. The green is the older of the two and the stronger (higher alcohol content) and more flavorful version, it's color actually comes from the chlorophyll found in its herbal ingredients. The yellow came into existence later, early 1800s, and is described as sweeter and milder (less alcohol,) it's color comes from the addition of saffron in the recipe.
Today Chartreuse is available in select liquor stores across the country and thankfully via mail order form distributors like BevMo and Total Wine (in select states.) Look below for some great recipes using this unique nectar of the gods.
The Last Word
A popular prohibition era drink that has recently regained popularity.
-Fresh Squezzed Lime Juice
Shake equal parts of each ingredient in a shaker, strain into a martini glass.
1 Oz. Booth's Dry Gin
1 Oz. Yellow Chartreuse
.5 Oz. French Vermouth
.5 Oz. Lime Juice
Mix and shake ingredients in a shaker over ice, strain into a martini glass.