You’ve seen it, you’ve heard of it, and you’ve most likely consumed it at some point in your life -- though how much do you actually know about Chartreuse? This mysterious French liqueur is a staple in cocktail culture both in and outside of France and is beloved by hospitality workers across the globe. So what exactly is this mysterious neon-hued drink and what makes it so special? We’re breaking down everything you need to know about Chartreuse, here.
What Is Chartreuse?
Chartreuse is a French liqueur produced with 130 herbs and botanicals. It is known as one of the few liqueurs on the market that has the ability to get better with age. Chartreuse was first produced by Carthusian Monks in 1737 from a recipe discovered by François Annibal d’Estrées in 1605.
Where Is Chartreuse Made?
Chartreuse is produced in the town of Voiron (Isère), not far from the city of Grenoble.
How Is Chartreuse Made?
Chartreuse is produced from a secret recipe passed down by Carthusian Monks. Green Chartreuse is produced from a sugar beet-based spirit, whereas Yellow Chartreuse is produced using a grape-based spirit. Both of these spirits are distilled in copper pots, macerated with their unique recipe of botanicals, and aged in charred French oak. Only two guardians, Dom Benoit and Frère Jean-Jacques, are permitted to enter the ‘herb room’ where the botanicals dry. These botanicals are sourced from all over the world and range from citrus rind to thyme to saffron and beyond.
How Does Chartreuse Get Its Color?
Green Chartreuse gets its color from chlorophyll, whereas Yellow Chartreuse gets its pigment from saffron. Both colors are naturally occurring.
What Is the History of Chartreuse?
Chartreuse’s history dates back to 1605, when François Hannibal d’Estrées discovered a secret recipe that allegedly helped its consumers ‘live a long life.’ He brought the recipe to Monks near Paris, who ultimately sent it down to La Grande Chartreuse abbey. The recipe was eventually tested in 1737, and about 60 years later, was tweaked to create Green Chartreuse. This new and improved Chartreuse boasted a more mild flavor profile and is the recipe still used today. 75 years later, Frère Bruno Jacquet crafted another tweaked version of the recipe, which became the Yellow Chartreuse that we know and love today.
What’s the Difference Between Green Chartreuse and Yellow Chartreuse?
Green Chartreuse is produced from 130 botanicals and is macerated for eight hours. The final product has an ABV of 55% and is herbal/slightly medicinal on the palate. On the contrary, Yellow Chartreuse is a bit lower in alcohol (40% ABV) and has a sweeter flavor profile.
How Many Other Types of Chartreuse Are There?
In addition to Green Chartreuse and Yellow Chartreuse, there are five other versions of Chartreuse available on the market: Chartreuse VEP, Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse, Liqueur du 9° Centenaire, Génépi, and Cuvée des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France.
Chartreuse VEP (Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé) is produced using the same methods as the traditional cuvée, though it is aged for a longer period of time in oak casks. Chartreuse VEP is produced in both green and yellow formats. The Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse has the same base as Green Chartreuse, though is distilled to a higher ABV (around 70%). Liqueur du 9° Centenaire was created to celebrate the original abbey’s 900th anniversary. It is slightly sweeter than the original Green Chartreuse.
Génépi gets its name for the local term used to describe homemade liqueurs in Alpine areas of France. This particular cuvée of Chartreuse is almost only found in eastern France and is bottled at around 40% ABV. The Cuvée des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France was produced in 2007 in partnership with the MOF Sommeliers. It is a variation of Yellow Chartreuse and clocks in around 40% ABV.
What Does Chartreuse Taste Like?
Chartreuse, like many liqueurs, has a very strong and distinct taste. It is slightly sweet, though more herbaceous and vegetal in taste. Yellow Chartreuse is sweeter than Green Chartreuse. Yellow Chartreuse is noted with flavors of honey, saffron, and anise spice, whereas Green Chartreuse shows more prominent flavors of lime, citrus spice, and fresh cut herbs.
How Should I Drink Chartreuse?
Chartreuse can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. If sipping solo, Chartreuse (regardless of color) should be served very cold. Chartreuse is often used in cocktail creations, as its strong herbal flavors complement an array of spirits. In the Alps, Green Chartreuse is frequently used to create Green Chaud, which is a homemade hot chocolate mixed with the liqueur.
According to CocktailsAndBars.com, finding out the year a given bottle of Chartreuse was produced is quite easy. Simply add 1084 to the first three numbers of the batch number on the bottle neck’s label.