Chartreuse (liqueur)

From Academic Kids

For the color chartreuse, see chartreuse (color).

Chartreuse is a French liqueur composed of distilled wine alcohol flavored with various herbal extracts. The liquor is named after the monastery where it is produced, which in turn is named after the mountainous region where it is located. The color chartreuse is a green and slightly yellow color resembling that of the Green Chartreuse beverage.

There are two main types of Chartreuse:

  • Green Chartreuse (110°), a naturally green liquor flavored with extracts from 130 plants
  • Yellow Chartreuse (80°), which has a milder and sweeter flavor

Other kinds of Chartreuse include:

  • Chartreuse VEP
  • Liqueur du 9ème Centenaire
  • Chartreuse 1605
Missing image
Bottle of 1605 Chartreuse

According to tradition, in 1605 a marshal of artillery to French king Henri IV, François Hannibal d'Estrées, presented the Carthusian monks at Vaubert, near Paris, with a manuscript that contained a complicated recipe for an "elixir of long life". The recipe eventually reached the religious order's headquarters at the Grande Chartreuse monastery, in Voiron, near Grenoble. Since the document was decoded in 1737, it has 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. It has 71% (vol.) alcohol (142° proof) and is colored with chlorophyll.

The beverage became popular quickly, and in 1764 the monks adapted the elixir recipe to make the somewhat milder and less alcoholic Green Chartreuse. In 1793, the monks were expelled from France and this resulted in the interruption of the manufacture of Chartreuse. Several years later they were allowed to return to their monastery. In 1838, the monks developed a sweeter, 40% alcoholic (80° proof) liqueur, colored with saffron and sold as Yellow Chartreuse. The monks were again expelled from the monastery in 1903. Finding refuge in Tarragona, Spain, they began producing Chartreuse under a different name. Because the French government had confiscated most of the possessions of the Order, including the trademark Chartreuse, the monks inscribed the labels on the bottles Liqueur fabriquée à Tarragone par les Pères Chartreux ("liquor manufactured in Tarragona by the Carthusian Fathers"). In 1938, the monks were allowed to return to their old monastery and resumed production of Chartreuse under its original name.

Today the liquors are produced in Voiron using the herbal mixture prepared by three monks at the 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 three monks who prepare the herbal mixture.

In the short story "Reginald on Christmas Presents" (contained in the 1904 collection Reginald by Edwardian English author Saki), the title character declares that "people may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die."

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