Some liqueurs possess an inherent mystery. Chartreuse is one of them.
Green or yellow. The 130 botanicals known only by two Carthusian monks at a time. And a crayon color named after it no less! Like so many other spirits and liqueurs, Chartreuse has become a bartender’s darling thanks to its intense flavor profile and vibrant color. Steeped in tradition, Chartreuse adds, by turns, a sweet or herbal note to cocktails of all styles, not to mention a potent alcohol kick.
Of Chartreuse, Natasha David, co-owner of Nitecap in New York and recently named a 2015 Rising Star Bartender, says, “Something that I love about alcohol is the history, tradition and mysticism surrounding it. There is no better spirit to express this sense of history than Chartreuse. It’s been made for generations by Carthusian monks. Only two monks know the recipe at a time and can never be the same room together. The ingredients are secret. As for yellow versus green, yellow is lower in proof than green, so automatically you have to think about how high you want the ABV in your cocktail to be. As for flavor, they are obviously both herb bombs, however yellow, to me, has more notes of saffron, bright lemon peel and honey. Whereas green has more hints of anise, cinnamon and thyme.”
The journey to the creation of Chartreuse began in 1605 when Francois Hannibal d’Estreés bestowed a manuscript on the Carthusian monks in their monastery located outside of Paris. Almost impossible to decipher due to the lack of knowledge regarding herbs, the manuscript was finally sent to the Mother House of the Carthusian Order in the Chartreuse mountains. There, the monastery’s apothecary deduced the recipe for the ‘Elixir’ contained within.
In 1737, the first Chartreuse liqueur, dubbed the “Elixir of Long Life” was formulated — and at 69% ABV to boot. What was meant as a medicine was more often consumed as a beverage, so frequently that the monks formulated a new, but still potent (55% ABV) recipe in 1764, creating Green Chartreuse. In 1838, Yellow Chartreuse offered a sweeter formulation at 40% ABV. Yet another distillation has been bottled under the name of Chartreuse “Une Tarragone,” made both in Tarragona, Spain and Marseille, France. And, finally, a version known as V.E.P., which stands for Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé, gains intensity due to extra long aging in oak casks. In fact, any type of Chartreuse will age in bottle, unlike the majority of liqueurs.
No matter what the bottling, Chartreuse is made only of alcohol, sugar, plants and flowers. Whether yellow or green, the herbal notes allow the liqueur to blend well with numerous spirits — the botanicals of gin and the agave notes of tequila, for instance — as well as other flavors like gentian and lavender, as seen in the recipes below.
Courtesy of Natasha David, Nitecap, NY
Of the drink David says,
“I wanted to create a cocktail that felt green yet still wintery. One of my favorite flavor combinations is London Dry Gin and Blanco Tequila– there is something really fresh and clean about it. Since the cocktail is very bright and refreshing, I was hoping that the herbaceous qualities of the Yellow Chartreuse would create a sort of full and comforting feeling.”
- 3/4 oz. Siembra Azul Blanco Tequila
- 3/4 oz. Beefeater Gin
- 1/2 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
- 3/4 oz. Lime Juice
- 3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
- 1 Kaffir Lime Leaf
Preparation: Add all ingredients to a mixing glass, shake and strain into a coupe.
Pepinos y Cilantro
Courtesy of Border Grill, Santa Monica
- 1 1/2 oz. Absolut Vodka
- 1/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
- 3/4 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
- 4 Slices Cucumber
- Pinch Cilantro
- Sea Salt
Preparation: Add all ingredients except sea salt to a mixing glass. Shake with ice. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass. Add a dash of sea salt to the top of the drink.
Courtesy of Paul O’Dowd, Terraza Lounge at Casa del Mar, Santa Monica, CA
“The Chartreuse lends a beautiful bouquet of herbs and spice to the beverage balancing the lemon and lavender syrup.”
- 1 1/2 oz. Tequila Ocho Blanco
- 1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/2 oz. Lavender Syrup
- 1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse
- Orange Peel, as Garnish
Preparation: Place all ingredients in a bar shaker with four large ice cubes and shake vigorously for a minute. Strain chilled ingredients into a chilled stemmed martini glass and serve with a twisted orange peel as garnish.
Courtesy of Aaron Ranf, Rustic Canyon, Los Angeles
Of his drink, Ranf notes,
“This is one of my favorite cocktails I’ve come up with in a while. It is easily the most boozy stirred cocktail on our menu, which is why I like to let it sweat on the ice for a bit. I put it on the ‘seasonal’ portion of the menu because it’s very warming and spicy, great for winter time.”
- 1 1/2 oz. Selvarey Rum
- 1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse
- 1/4 oz. Salers Gentiane
- 1-2 dashes Bittercube Orange Bitters
- 1-2 dashes Homemade Cinnamon Bitters
Preparation: Combine all ingredients and stir over ice, and strain into a chilled coupe glass.