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So I was in a conversation with what will continue to be an unnamed bartender from a very exclusive French joint, and he was explaining the high-end fuck buddies that he cultivates through his position. Less than 2 sentences later, he slammed his fist on the table and said, “Why do people shoot Chartreuse? It is to be sipped, slowly, and appreciated after a meal.” I bring this up to illustrate that Chartreuse is mysterious and frequently confusing.
Another mysterious thing about chartreuse are the myths perpetuated about it, why would people spurt random things about it while holding a bottle that says otherwise, to make a rule right now, read any and every bottle before you drink it. Info you’ll find on the bottle (listing only the true things): Chartruese is an intensely herbal 110 proof liqueurs made near Grenoble France from 130 herbs according to a recipe from 1605. In America it is sold in 4 varieties a green, a yellow, which is sweeter and milder, and an aged version of each bottle that is called V.E.P. The secret recipe is never known by more than 3 monks at a time and is protected by their vow of silence.
There is much more information on the bottle, but that information is incomplete or misleading. First I’ll list the bottlings before I explain the rest. There are 5 bottlings, 1 of which is not imported into America.
1: Green Chartreuse 110 proof
2: Yellow Chartreuse 80 proof
3: Green Chartreuse VEP (Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé)
4: Yellow Chartreuse VEP (Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé)
5: Elixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse 142 proof
The elixir is not sold in America and is basically green in its original non-bottle strength form. Sometimes people say there are 2 chartreuses sometimes 4, what’s important: there are 5 different bottlings.
Next, monks do not make Chartreuse; it was, for centuries, by now it’s made by what we call “factories.” After centuries of production by monks, demand is too great for them to keep up with. The recipe however, is still blended secretly by monks. 1605, that’s also kind of true, the monks were gifted the marshal of King Henri IV, Francois d’Estrees. This elixir for long life wasn’t perfected and put into production until 1737. So it’s not really 400 years old. Bother Brother Gérome Maubec was the brother who made this public. 1838 brought Yellow Chartreuse to the market; its sweet flavor is very similar to that of Licore Strega. Chartreuse’s production has twice been halted, in 1793 and 1903. This was because of the French revolution and later the government seized their land and exiled the monks to Spain where they continued production until they were allowed back in 1935. It is said during this time, the monks’ brandy reserves, (dating back to Napoleon) were all destroyed. But it’s all roses and sunshine for the brothers now, even with no add campaign outside of death proof by Quentin Tarantino, Chartreuse is selling better than ever.
That’s probably enough fact checking. To make Chartreuse make more sense, some of the generally assumed ingredients are: sweet flag, orange peel, peppermint oil, hyssop, balm, angelica, tonka bean, wormwood, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and mace. Though some of those ingredients are considered poisonous, the monks did indeed consider this an elixir for long life. I have had an opportunity to take a bug tug off of the tiny bottle of chartreuse elixir, unlike almost all liquor I’ve tasted of that proof the flavor is distinct and moreover life changing. Honestly, it felt like god was using a pepper grinder at the base of my skull, I began to sweat immediately and lights were created halos around non-moving objects. I can’t recommend this enough.
As for the general flavors for chartreuse it’s the opposite of what you would call diplomatic. However, it enhances many flavors, it pairs very well with coffee, chocolate and stone fruits. It’s also a test; I have overheard many bartenders say, “No, you don’t mix chartreuse.” I have heard this said of single malt scotch, anejo tequila, fernet branca, or anything confusing or difficult to understand. This is a cop out; there are only three reasons to not mix anything, 1. If you can’t afford it, if you can’t handle fucking up a $400 sidecar, don’t. Which leads to 2. If you don’t have the skill, and then very rare 3. If you are mixing with something that will never be available again. It bet you can wake a great Bobby Burns with Port Ellen scotch, but that distillery doesn’t exist anymore, you may not mix with it. That’s the test, can you mix? Or do you not even try?
Here are a few Cocktails for you
The earliest I have it is the Savoy Cocktail Book 1930, Unaccredited
.75 Yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir and strain into a cocktail glass
The Last Word- Detroit Athletic Cub, Before 1951
Shake and strain
And one from me
Penelope’s Pit stop
1.5 El Tesoro Platinum Tequila
.5 Yellow Chartreuse
.5 lemon juice
.25 of a muddled pear