Chartreuse (liqueur)

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Bottle of Chartreuse
Shot glass of Chartreuse
Type Liqueur
Manufacturer Carthusian monks
Country of origin Voiron, France
Introduced 1764
Alcohol by volume 40–55%
Proof (US) 80–110
Color Green or Yellow
Flavour herbal

Chartreuse (pronounced: [ʃaʁtʁøz]) is a French liqueur made by the Carthusian Monks since 1737 according to the instructions set out in a manuscript given to them by François Annibal d'Estrées in 1605. It is composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbs, plants and flowers. The liqueur is named after the monks' Grande Chartreuse monastery, located in the Chartreuse Mountains in the general region of Grenoble in France. The liqueur is produced in their distillery in the nearby town of Voiron (Isère). Until the 1980s, there was another distillery at Tarragona in Spain.[1][2]

Chartreuse gives its name to the color chartreuse, which was first used as a term of color in 1884.[3] It is one of the handful of liquors that continue to age and improve in the bottle.[4]


Elixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse

The two types of Chartreuse are:

  • Green Chartreuse (110 proof or 55%) is a naturally green liqueur made from 130 herbs and plants macerated in alcohol and steeped for about 8 hours. A last maceration of plants gives its color to the liqueur.
  • Yellow Chartreuse (80 proof or 40%), which has a milder and sweeter flavour and aroma.

Also made by the monks of Chartreuse are:

Chartreuse VEP 
VEP stands for Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé, meaning "exceptionally prolonged ageing" in English. It is made using the same processes and the same secret formula as the traditional liqueur, and by extra long ageing in oak casks it reaches an exceptional quality. Chartreuse VEP comes in both yellow and green.
Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse (138 proof or 69% – also 142 proof or 71%) 
The same base of about 130 medicinal and aromatic plants and flowers; far stronger. It can be described as a cordial or a liqueur, and is claimed to be a tonic. Sold in small wooden-covered bottles.
Liqueur du 9° Centenaire (47%) 
Created in 1984 to commemorate the 900 year anniversary of the foundation of the abbey. It is similar to Green Chartreuse but slightly sweeter.
Chartreuse 1605 – Liqueur d'Elixir (56%) 
Created to commemorate the return of a mysterious manuscript concerning an elixir of long life to the Carthusian monks by Marshal François Annibal d'Estrées.
White Chartreuse (30%)
Produced and sold between 1860 and 1900.[5]

Furthermore, the monks make a "Génépi". Génépi is the general term in the Alps for a homemade or local liquor featuring local mountain flora. There are hundreds or even thousands of different Génépi liquors made, many simply by families for their own use each year. As they have been making Chartreuse from local plants for centuries, the monks have recently (2000s) made a Génépi as a sideline product. It is labelled "Génépi des Pères Chartreux" and is generally only available locally in a 70cl bottle, usually labelled 40% alcohol.


Chartreuse has a very strong characteristic taste. It is very sweet, but becomes both spicy and pungent. It is comparable to other herbal liqueurs such as Galliano, Liquore Strega or Kräuterlikör, though it is distinctively more vegetal. Like other liqueurs, its flavour is sensitive to serving temperature. If straight, it can be served very cold, but is often served at room temperature. It is also featured in some cocktails. Some mixed drink recipes call for only a few drops of Chartreuse due to the assertive flavour. It is popular in French ski resorts where it is mixed with hot chocolate and called Green Chaud.[6]


Chartreuse counterfeits
The cellars of the Chartreuse
The old-style pot stills (no longer in regular use, they have been replaced by stainless steel stills)

According to tradition, a marshal of artillery to French king Henry IV, François Hannibal d'Estrées, presented the Carthusian monks at Vauvert, near Paris, with an alchemical manuscript that contained a recipe for an "elixir of long life" in 1605.[7] The recipe eventually reached the religious order's headquarters at the Grande Chartreuse monastery, in Voiron, near Grenoble. It has since then been used to produce the "Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse". The formula is said to include 130 herbs, plants and flowers and secret ingredients combined in a wine alcohol base.

The book The Practical Hotel Steward (1900) states that green chartreuse contains "cinnamon, mace, lemon balm, dried hyssop flower tops, peppermint, thyme, costmary, arnica flowers, genepi, and angelica roots", and that yellow chartreuse is, "Similar to above, adding cardamom seeds and socctrine aloes."[8] The monks intended their liqueur to be used as medicine. The recipe was further enhanced in 1737 by Brother Gérome Maubec.

The beverage soon became popular, and in 1764 the monks adapted the elixir recipe to make what is now called Green Chartreuse. In 1793, the monks were expelled from France, and manufacture of the liqueur ceased. Several years later they were allowed to return. In 1838, they developed Yellow Chartreuse, a sweeter, 40% alcohol liqueur (80° proof) colored with saffron.

The monks were again expelled from the monastery following a French law in 1903, and their real property, including the distillery, was confiscated by the government. The monks took their secret recipe to their refuge in Tarragona, Catalonia, and began producing their liqueurs with the same label, but with an additional label which said Liqueur fabriquée à Tarragone par les Pères Chartreux ("liquor manufactured in Tarragona by the Carthusian Fathers"). At the same time, the "Compagnie Fermière de la Grande Chartreuse", a corporation in Voiron that obtained the Chartreuse assets, produced a liqueur without benefit of the monks' recipe which they sold as Chartreuse. While the French corporation was acting legally in France, the monks successfully prevented the export of the liqueur to many other countries, since the order retained ownership of its foreign trademark registrations, largely because the recipe had been kept secret.[9][10] Sales at the French company were very poor, and by 1927, it faced bankruptcy. A group of local businessmen in Voiron bought all the shares at a low price and sent them as a gift to the monks in Tarragona.

After regaining possession of the distillery, the Carthusian brothers returned to the monastery with the tacit approval of the French government and began to produce Chartreuse once again. Despite the eviction law, when a mudslide destroyed the distillery in 1935, the French government assigned Army engineers to relocate and rebuild it at a location near Voiron where the monks had previously set up a distribution point. After World War II, the government lifted the expulsion order, making the Carthusian brothers once again legal French residents.

Today, the liqueurs are produced in Voiron using the herbal mixture prepared by two monks at 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 two monks who prepare the herbal mixture. Chartreuse is also used as an addition to other drinks.[11]


Chartreuse liquors generally have performed well at international spirit ratings competitions. The basic green offering has won silver and double gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It has also earned an above-average score of 93 from the Beverage Testing Institute and has been given scores in the 96-100 interval by Wine Enthusiast.[12] The VEP Green and VEP Yellow have generally earned similarly impressive scores.[13] The basic Yellow Chartreuse has received more modest (though still average or above) ratings.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the Alfred Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes, a character on the train specifically orders green chartreuse.
  • In chapter 23 of John Steinbeck's 1954 novel, Sweet Thursday, Doc and Suzy start off their dinner date with a cocktail, “The Webster F. Street Lay-Away Plan — a martini made with chartreuse instead of vermouth. Very good.”
  • In the 1950 novel by Josephine Tey, To Love and Be Wise, Inspector Alan Grant enjoys a glass of Chartreuse with his companion Marta Hallard before dinner.
  • 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."
  • In Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited, Anthony Blanche and the narrator Charles Ryder drink Chartreuse after dinner. Anthony muses that it's "Real G-g-green Chartreuse, made before the expulsion of the monks. There are five distinct tastes as it trickles over the tongue. It is like swallowing a sp-spectrum."
  • In Poppy Z. Brite's novel Lost Souls, Chartreuse features heavily, serving as the main drink of the New Orleans' Vampire protagonists. In the prologue the author states that 'Chartreuse glows in the dark, and if you drink enough of it, your eyes will turn bright green.', notable for the eyes of the main vampire, Zillah, whose eyes are said to be the color of Chartreuse.
  • In Ted Conover's book Whiteout, Conover is asked to deliver five bottles of green Chartreuse to Hunter Thompson, but is turned down by Airport Liquors in Aspen because Thompson had already bought all the Chartreuse they had in stock.
  • In Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, the bar owner Warren (Quentin Tarantino) serves a green liqueur. After being asked what was just served, Warren says, "Chartreuse, the only liqueur so good they named a color after it."
  • The Tom Waits song "Til the Money Runs Out" from his 1980 album Heartattack and Vine contains the couplet "with a pint of green chartreuse ain't nothin seems right/you buy the Sunday paper on a Saturday night." His song "$29.00," from the album Blue Valentine, refers to a "Fleetwood with the chartreuse hood."
  • The 2000 Morphine song "Top Floor Bottom Buzzer" on the album The Night contains the lines, "... It was later it was after two. We found a bottle of the good Chartreuse. The lights were green and gold. We played Latin soul. ..."
  • The 2012 ZZ Top song "Chartreuse" on the album La Futura, which is about how well one feels when consuming Chartreuse.
  • In the movie "We're No Angels" (1955) Madame Parole purchases a bottle of Chartreuse in the Ducotel's store.
  • In the 1960s cult gothic-horror series Dark Shadows, during the 1897 episodes, Chartreuse is ordered for the diabolical Count Andreas Petofi by his loyal henchman, Aristede, at the Blue Whale tavern.

See also[edit]

  • Chartreuse, a web color named originally in 1987 after Green Chartreuse liqueur
  • Chartreuse yellow, a color originally named "chartreuse" in 1892 after Yellow Chartreuse liqueur, but since 1987 called "chartreuse yellow" to avoid confusion with the green version of chartreuse
  • Stellina, a similar monastic liqueur made in the same region as Chartreuse
  • Frangelico, an example of a liquor created in recent times "based on" a legend or story about a monastic recipe
  • Bénédictine, an example of a liquor created in recent times "based on" a monastic recipe
  • Centerbe, an Italian liqueur of pale green color made of mountain herbs.


  1. ^ "Green Chartreuse, Tarragona Bot. 1980s". The Whisky Exchange. 
  2. ^ "The Chartreuse Distilleries". Chartreuse. 
  3. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary (Second ed.). 1989. 
  4. ^ Hecht, Alex (October 2014). "Chartreuse: The only liqueur so good they named a color after it". War on the Rocks. Retrieved 2014-12-02. 
  5. ^ Sir Thomas Edward Thorpe (1922). A Dictionary of Applied Science. Longmans, Green, and Co. p. 742. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "Green chaud". Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  7. ^ "The monks got hold of the recipe, originally a health potion, in 1605 but it was so complex they didn't master it for another century." "Chartreuse Liqueurs". Immaculate Heart of Mary's Hermitage. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  8. ^ John Tellman (1900) The Practical Hotel Steward, The Hotel Monthly, Chicago
  9. ^ "Monks Sue to Prevent Use of Chartreuse Trademark". San Francisco Call. 7 October 1906. p. 34. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  10. ^ Ladas, Stephen Pericles (1975). Patents, Trademarks, and Related Rights: National and International Protection. Harvard University Press. pp. 1183–. ISBN 9780674657755. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  11. ^ "The 1605 Manuscript and the Secret of the "Elixir of Long Life"". Archived from the original on 2001-12-23. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  12. ^ " Summary of Chartreuse Green's Awards". Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  13. ^ " Summary of Chartreuse VEP Green's Awards". Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  14. ^ " Summary of Chartreuse Yellow's Awards". Retrieved 31 October 2013. 

Works cited

External links[edit]