What Is Chartreuse Liqueur?

Production, Types, and Recipes

Chartreuse Liqueur

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Chartreuse is a popular herbal liqueur produced by French monks from a 400-year-old recipe. Both Green Chartreuse and Yellow Chartreuse use a secret blend of 130 herbs and plants, though they're differentiated by certain ingredients. Chartreuse has been a staple in many bars since the 1890s and it is the foundation for a great variety of cocktails. Outside of France, drinkers in Australia, Germany, Mexico, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. enjoy this elixir the most, but it's found worldwide. Chartreuse pairs wonderfully with desserts and chocolate (especially Green Chartreuse), too.

Substitutions

Though there are two varieties of the liqueur, Chartreuse is one-of-a-kind in many aspects. You will not find another liqueur on the market that uses this particular blend of herbs or one that employs the same production techniques. Due to this, there are no great substitutions for Chartreuse. It is expensive, however, so it's not unusual for drinkers to seek out an alternative.

The closest match for Green Chartreuse is Dolin Génépy from Haus Alpenz, which is also produced in the French Alps. Strega is the best substitute for Yellow Chartreuse. Both are reasonably priced and can be used in Chartreuse cocktails, though there's always going to be something missing.

Fast Facts

  • Ingredients: Herbs, plants, flowers
  • Proof: 80–110 
  • ABV: 40–55%
  • Calories in a shot: 103–122
  • Origin: France
  • Taste: Sweet, herbal
  • Aged: 5 years
  • Serve: Straight, on the rocks, cocktails

What Is Chartreuse Made From?

Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur produced by Chartreuse (or Carthusian) monks in the French Alps. With centuries of history, Chartreuse is one of the oldest and most mysterious spirits still available. It is an Old World liqueur that has remained true to its tradition in every sense. To this day, the distillation process is handled by monks at the Chartreuse Monastery in Vauvert and the distillery in Voiron. Only two monks from the order know the secret herbal recipe, which was laid out in a manuscript in 1605.

The liqueur was originally created as an "elixir of long life" and, as is the case with many herbal liqueurs, it was intended as a medicine. The formula was perfected over the years and was released to the world in 1737. Distribution at the time involved a monk and a mule. The elixir was so tasty that people began consuming it as a beverage rather than taking it for its medicinal benefits. This caused the monks to reformulate it in 1764 into a more drinkable beverage that was the strength of Green Chartreuse today.

The French Revolution and Napoleon's reign nearly put an end to Chartreuse and the secrets were almost revealed. However, the manuscript was returned to the Carthusians in 1816. In 1838, they created Yellow Chartreuse, a sweeter, lower-proof liqueur.

The Carthusians' troubles did not end in that century. In the early part of the 20th century, the French government nationalized all distilleries and the monks were forced to move to Spain (Chartreuse from this time is known as “Une Tarragone”). The distillery failed under private business interests and the Carthusians returned in 1929 through the help of loyal friends, regaining full control of the liqueur, trademark, and distillery.

The two monks charged with the duty oversee the entire production of Chartreuse. It begins in the monastery's herb room where a precise selection of herbs is bagged. These are taken to the distillery and macerated with a neutral alcohol spirit, and then distilled. The liquor is then aged for five years in large oak casks.

Both Green and Yellow Chartreuse obtain their signature color naturally through their ingredients. There are no artificial ingredients or colors added, and only a small amount of sugar for sweetness. An outside company handles the bottling, packaging, and sales of Chartreuse. The profits help fund the entire monastery and allow them to continue their religious pursuits.

Chartreuse
The Spruce / Danie Drankwalter

What Does Chartreuse Liqueur Taste Like?

Chartreuse offers a wonderful bouquet of herbs in a gently sweet, very smooth liqueur. The two styles have their own foreground flavors based on the individual recipes.

Types

Both types of Chartreuse use 130 herbs, plants, and flowers found in the French Alps and the process for distilling them is the same. The difference is determined by the herbs used and this affects which flavors are most noticeable.

Green Chartreuse Liqueur: Also known as Chartreuse Verte, this is the original formula and the most commonly used. It is bottled at 55 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 110 proof). The higher alcohol content intensifies the floral and herbal flavor, which has hints of cinnamon, citrus, clove, rosemary, and thyme.

Yellow Chartreuse Liqueur: In French, it's Chartreuse Jaune. This liqueur is only 40 percent ABV (80 proof) and it's a little sweeter. It has a softer herbal flavor with distinct citrus, violet, and honey notes accented by anise, licorice, and saffron.

Chartreuse V.E.P.: Both Green and Yellow Chartreuse can be found in a bottling known as V.E.P. (Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolonge, translated to "Exceptionally Prolonged Aging"). Hand-selected from the liqueur stock by the Carthusians, these expressions are aged for a longer period of time. This mellows the spirit while creating an exceptional flavor that's more mature than the younger counterparts. Each bottle of V.E.P. is carefully closed by hand with a wax-sealed cork, labeled with a wax Chartreuse seal, and placed in a wooden box marked with a branding iron. They are luxury liqueurs with a price almost three times that of the main expressions and best savored neat or on the rocks.

How to Drink Chartreuse

Chartreuse is a delightful drink straight, chilled, or on the rocks and it makes a nice digestif after a meal. Green Chartreuse is used more often in cocktails and it's surprisingly diverse. It pairs best with whiskey though it does make an appearance with other spirits, including brandy, gin, and rum. It is coveted by mixologists not just for the flavor, but as an alternative to mint and melon liqueurs when creating green cocktails.

Yellow Chartreuse is finding its way into more cocktails every year. Modern mixologists enjoy the herbal blend and the lighter profile which pairs nicely with lighter distilled spirits as well as brandy and whiskey.

Cocktail Recipes

Chartreuse is a liqueur that will amaze your taste buds in a variety of cocktails. The Chartreuse martini and last word are two essential classics, and it's been employed to give the brandy daisy a delightful upgrade. One of its other popular drinks is called the swamp water. It's a shot of Green Chartreuse shaken with 4 ounces of pineapple juice and 1/2 ounce of lime juice then strained into an ice-filled glass.