Chartreuse is both a green-yellow font color and a French herbal liquor of the same hue. The liquor came first, first distilled in the early 17th century, and all of the world’s current supply originates from La Grande-Chartreuse, a monastery in the Chartreuse mountain range in the French Alps, about 20 km north of my house.
Chartreuse is the most famous product that comes from Grenoble itself, and we are proud and hardy Chartreuse drinkers, despite the 55% alcohol content and ‘particular’ plant taste. There are two kinds of Chartreuse, green and yellow, the yellow being less strong and much sweeter. Both kinds are made from a combination of plants (130 different plants for the green), and the recipes are TOP-SECRET. That’s not top-secret in the way that Coca-cola’s recipe is top-secret. Supposedly, only 2 monks at La Grande-Chartreuse know the recipe, and they collect and sort the plants themselves, transport the plants to the distillery in Voiron where the liquor is fabricated, and regulate the temperature and aging of the liquor held in the cellars. Meaning that the production of all the Chartreuse sold in over 100 countries the world over is entirely in the hands of two monks from Grenoble. If that doesn’t make for a special liquor, I don’t know what does.
Fascinated by this story of reclusive woodland monks and their zealously guarded secret brew, I had plenty of questions for the poor tour guide at the Chartreuse distillery. What is the difference between green and yellow Chartreuse? How long is it aged? Are all the plants from the region? How much money do the monks make?
Each time I got, “I don’t know, Madame. The recipe is unknown.” Perhaps a strategic marketing tactic on the part of the monks, as this made me even more fascinated by the shimmery green liquor and I ended up buying a bottle in the gift shop.
Even without the story behind it, Chartreuse is a delicious liquor. It’s a beautiful color, is quite strong, and the taste is distinctive and fresh. It’s best served on its own, so chilled that it smokes, over a single ice cube.
But if you have a taste for a cocktail, try one of these:
This is a popular alternative to hot chocolate on the slopes in the Alps. Add a shot of Green Chartreuse to your hot chocolate.
1 part Green Chartreuse
1 part vodka
3 parts Orangina
Shake the glass a bit before serving to create foam.
1 part Green Chartreuse
4 parts tonic water
lemon slice garnish