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Chartreuse, green or yellow, are two French liqueurs shrouded in secrecy much like other unique products in the world. The year was 1605 and Les Peres Chartreux, at a monastery in Vauvert, a suburb of Paris, were given a secret formula by Marechal d’Estrees who was in charge of the artillery of Henry IV. The recipe was already very old; its title, “An elixir for long life”, its recipe so complex hardly anyone, except well-educated and experienced liqueur makers could understand. In those days, monks were the educated and literate elites and had liqueur production skills. A century later the manuscript was brought into daylight again, and in 1737 at Le Grande Chartreuse, the principal convent of the order, in the mountains near Grenoble. Here Brother Gerome Maubec, who had a deft touch with herbs and plants, studied it in detail. The ensuing 200 years were full of marvelous intrigue as it frequently happens with monasteries, monks, and French people in general. First there was relocation, followed by flights into exile (Spain), bankruptcy, legal and corporate wrangling, stock manipulation (and surprisingly a group of generous businessmen who bought up the near worthless shares and mailed them back to monks as a gift), fires, mudslides and more.

Two types of Chartreuse are made – yellow (40 percent ABV) and green (55 percent ABV) the strongest alcohol beverage legally sold in Canada.

The original Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse ran to 71 percent ABV and proved to be too potent for monks who adapted the recipe to make a milder liqueur (Green Chartreuse); its success was immediate throughout Europe.

Monks still today produce faithfully according to the “original” recipe and both Chartreuse liqueurs. Only three living monks know the full recipe and they never travel together.

The products are marketed by a secular company throughout the world.
Chartreuse liqueurs consist of 130 plants, herbs, roots, leaves, barks, brandy, distilled honey and sugar syrup. The liqueurs are then aged for a suitably long time in oak casks.

Green Chartreuse should be enjoyed in a snifter after a rich meal to aid digestion.

The Yellow Chartreuse is more meant for between meals or around 4 p m as a pick me up libation.

And it is true that Sir Henry Stanley carted a few bottles on his African expeditions, and that Hunter S. Thompson loves both of them, and that the farmers in the Chartreuse mountains still mix Chartreuse with water and administer it to cows suffering from bloat. And the cats? Those are the famous grey-blue with the big golden eyes, one of the most highly regarded breeds in the world. But they have nothing to do with the taste of Chartreuse liqueurs. You must try them and see for yourself.

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu



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