The History of Chartreuse

May’s new subscribers kit is the “Mezcal & Chartreuse Kit” – a Mexican and French fusion of flavours! Check out the kit at our new lower subscription price of £24, or read more about the two main ingredients and why I chose them.

Chartreuse Collage from TASTE Cocktails History of Chartreuse

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Unraveling the Recipe of Chartreuse

The Chartreuse monastery is tucked away in Vauvert, a small suburb about 3 hours outside the centre of Paris, and it took the monks in this order 132 years to unravel the complex recipe of Chartreuse.

In 1605 the monks received a gift of an ancient “elixir” manuscript from Francois Hannibal d’Estrées,  Marshal of King’s Henri IV artillery. It was supposedly an “Elixir of Long Life” and consisted of a complex blend of 130 herbs and plants blended together to create a tonic. The origins of the recipe are uncertain, but it’s believed to have originated from a 16th century alchemist.

It was still very early days in the understanding of Herbalism, and so the monks at Chartreuse were only able to grasp and understand fragments of the recipe. They kept the manuscript to themselves, but eventually sent it to the Mother House of the Order, La Grande Chartreuse, at the beginning of the 18th Century.

This is where the real work began, and the monastery’s Apothecary Frère Jerome Maubec, began an in-depth study of the recipe to unravel it’s mystery. It took him until 1737 to decipher a practical formula for the Elixir of Long Life, and it is thought that he made some of his own changes to the original recipe.

The Elixir of Long Life

In the early days of Chartreuse, the distribution and sale of this new herbal tonic were limited, and it fell to Frère Charles, one of the monks of La Grande Chartreuse, and his mule to deliver the small bottles to other nearby villages.

Elixir or Long Life TASTE Cocktails History of Chartreuse

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Today, the “Elixir of Long Life” is still being made, and only by the Chartreuse monks using the same ancient recipe. It’s full name is “Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse”, and this strong health liqueur is 69% alcohol by volume.

The Creation of Green and Yellow Chartreuse

Not ones to miss a branding opportunity, the monks adapted the elixir recipe in 1764 to create a milder version that is known today as Green Chartreuse (55% abv). The popularity of this new version of their liqueur spread beyond their local vicinity, and the monks were on the road to success.

The French Revolution in 1789 put a minor kink in the monk’s plans, when all religious orders were ordered out of the country. But the enterprising monks at the Order of Chartreuse made sure to retain the recipe to future generations.

The monks were allowed to return to their monastery in 1816, and 22 years later they developed Yellow Chartreuse (40% abv), which is sweeter and milder than the Green Chartreuse.

All went well at the monastery until 1903, when the French government nationalised the Chartreuse distillery, and they eventually sold the trademark “Chartreuse” to a group of distillers who set up “Compagnie Fermière de la Grande Chartreuse” that was in existence until 1929 until it went bankrupt.

Monks back on Top

The shares from the sale of the distillery were bought by friends of the monks, and the monks regained ownership of the Chartreuse trademark and resumed production of the true Chartreuse liqueurs at Fourvoirie, France. Until it was later transferred to Voiron, where it remains today.

How Chartreuse is made today

Only two monks handle the selection, crushing and mixing of the secret recipe of herbs, plants and other botanicals. These ingredients are left to macerate in carefully selected alcohol before being distilled.

Chartreuse Monks Liqueur TASTE Cocktails History

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The liqueurs are aged in huge oak casks for several years and placed into the world’s longest liqueur cellar to mature. The monks then hand over the bottling, packaging, advertising and selling of their products to Chartreuse Diffusion. The sales of the liqueurs allow the monks to maintain their lifestyle of prayer and meditation.

So next time you’re mixing a cocktail with Chartreuse, spare a thought for these two monks crushing and mixing herbs, carrying on and age old tradition that has persevered through hardship and history.

Want to taste both Green and Yellow Chartreuse, and try them in some fantastic cocktail recipes? Check out our Mezcal & Chartreuse cocktail kit.

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