Chartreuse or “The Elixir of Life” has a unique and extensive history dating back to 1605. This now-popular bitter liqueur has had somewhat of a cult following throughout the years while staying true to its foundational ideals since the beginning. The drink itself carries a mystical aurora. No one knows the exact recipe except a few Carthusian monks making this incredibly complex liqueur that much more exciting. Not to mention, it’s great in a myriad of classic cocktails and even on its own (chilled to the proper temperature of 55 F of course). So, what is Chartreuse exactly? Let’s take a quick look at some notable historical events that add to this drink’s charm.
1084 – A former dean of the Cathedral of Reims, Bruno, traveled to the French Chartreuse Desert with 6 of his buddies to officially established the Carthusian Order where they successfully become fish farmers, blacksmiths, breeders, and eventually distillers. Their motto is to efficiently utilize only what nature has given to them and to live in silent prayer (and drink).
1605 – If you had Chartreuse before, you probably noticed this date on the bottle when the Order first discovered the original Elixir or recipe. No one really knows where this manuscript came from or who wrote it!
“This manuscript contains a list of motley plants and some indications for establishing an Elixir of long life”. (Chartreuse FR)
1764 – After extensive Research and Development the dedicated group of monks finally reached a recipe, they considered worthy. A seven-page manuscript was written with the explicit title: “Composition of the Elixir of Chartreuse”. A very important date indeed!
1840 – Chartreuse is a Carthusian staple at this point and the monastery is finding the drink is doing rather well, so they introduce Yellow Chartreuse, similar with a bit more sweetness, herbal essence, and of course the color. This new product was so popular that counterfeits and lawsuits started to pile up forcing the monks to properly authenticate their Elixir. Every bottle, from 1852 to the present day, is now required to have the signature of Dom Louis Garnier with special labels and stamps that include “Liqueur. made at the Grande Chartreuse”.
1925 – A novel called The Magnificent Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald gives Chartreuse some recognition.
1963 – “Chartreuse V.E.P.” (with Exceptional Prolonged Ageing) was created.
From about 1980-2010, the popularity of Chartreuse was declining, However, there has been a resurgence of this “Elixir of Life” and the Carthusian Monks being loyal to their founding ideal, “remain steadfast without ever reaching out”. There’s even been a shortage in recent months so I would recommend taking advantage of the now-rare sighting if you are lucky enough to find a bottle.
Taste and Cocktails
Here are a few fan-favorite cocktails that use Chartreuse. These are always good after a meal and will surely impress if your guests enjoy bold flavors.
Last word– This may be the most influential cocktail with Chartreuse at its core and the one that is initially thought of. It involves a simple recipe of equal parts gin, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino Liqueur (like Luxardo), and freshly squeezed lime juice.
Trato Hecho– A very similar concoction to the Last Word with a tantalizing twist that changes the entire game. The recipe is identical except for a swap of Dry Gin for Mezcal infused with pineapple giving it nee heights of complex tangy acidity.
Naked and Famous– My personal favorite and surely a soon-to-be for you as well. This is another classic riff off of the Last Word, taking the standard formula of Spirit, Chartreuse, and acid while adding a curve ball, Aperol. This catchy cocktail involves a simple equal parts recipe of Mezcal, Yellow Chartreuse, Aperol, and lime juice making it a smooth, smokey, fruity, and well-structured delight.
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