Green Chartreuse is a liqueur from France, owned by the "Ordre des Chartreux" - the Carthusian order of monks.
The liqueur got its name from the monks' Grandé Chartreuse monastery, located in the Chartreuse mountains of France in Grenoble. And until today, Green Chartreuse is produced just around the corner in their distillery in Aiguenoire.
Its characteristic green color even made it into the world of color codes:
Since 1884, Chartreuse stands for the distinct green-yellow color the liqueur shows when poured into a glass. An interesting side-fact that even made it into one of Quentin Tarantino's movies ("Death Proof").
What is Green Chartreuse?
Chartreuse is a French herbal liqueur based on wine available in green and yellow. Green and Yellow Chartreuse are not only different in appearance, but they vary in taste and have different alcohol content.
Green Chartreuse is by far the more common of the two versions. It's an ingredient you can find in various cocktail recipes as it increases complexity and brings a light sweetness.
The secret formula supposedly includes as many as 130 herbs, plants, flowers, and spices. -No wonder it is full of flavor and brings complexity to a drink.
The color of Green Chartreuse is achieved naturally through a second maceration of plants, and it has an alcohol content of 55% vol.
The history of Green Chartreuse
The Carthusian order of monks, founded in 1084, is accountable for inventing the herbal liqueur and the current producer. However, the story of the Chartreuse liqueur began more than 500 years after that.
In 1605 Monsieur Hannibal d'Estrées supposedly started the long story of the Green Chartreuse. At that time, D'Estrées presented the recipe for an "elixir for long life" to a group of Carthusian monks.
The formula for this health potion -which it was at that time- was complicated. In fact, it was so complex that it took the order more than a century to master the production.
It contained 130 different herbs, plants, flowers, and other ingredients. All brought together with an alcoholic wine base.
The recipe the order initially used was only partly correct. Hence, Brother Gérome Maubec took matters into his own hands, trying to solve the riddle of the recipe.
However, he could not fully unravel the formula before his death in 1737. So he passed all his knowledge to Brother Antoine. And it was Antoine who completed the recipe and began creating the first batches about 20 years later.
The name of the creation still sticks until today: "The Herbal Elixir of the Grandé Chartreuse".
The original version contained 71% ABV (142 proof). That got later replaced by a milder version at 55%, nowadays known as Green Chartreuse.
Tasting notes of Green Chartreuse
Initially intended to be a medical tonic, Green Chartreuse has a very intense and characteristic taste. It's comparable to other herbal liqueurs like Galliano liqueur, Liquore Strega (both from Italy), and German Kräuterlikör.
The most significant difference to those is that Green Chartreuse tastes way more vegetal.
The scent of the French herbal liqueur is fantastic. You can smell various aromas like rosemary, angelica, sage, pine, tonka bean, cocoa, mint, pepper, and hints of fruit.
It's a very complex and pungent smell that is amazingly deep in flavor.
Once you take a sip of Green Chartreuse, the pronounced herbaceous and vegetal notes dominate.
Its taste is bitter, very herbal, and at the same time sweet. Despite the intense herbal flavor, the liqueur is well-defined by a mentholated freshness.
The secret recipe for Green Chartreuse
The formula for making the liqueur is a well-kept secret. Even today, only two monks know the exact recipe and are in charge of the production of the herbal liqueur.
Still, over time numerous sources claimed to know several ingredients to be part of the recipe.
And some of these ingredients are angelica, arnica, cinnamon, costmary, genepi (a type of wormwood), hyssop, lemon balm, peppermint, and thyme.
The list of ingredients for the yellow version is apparently relatively similar to the green one. Only some additional components like cardamom seeds are said to make the difference.
Green Chartreuse cocktails
Green Chartreuse, with its beautiful light, jade-green color, is an excellent digestif. You can serve it chilled, but usually, you drink it at room temperature as the myriad of flavors can expand way better at higher temperatures.
As mentioned above, the taste is quite powerful and complex. Consumed neat, it can be a bit overwhelming to some. However, once you add this elixir into cocktails, it truly shines.
The first is a classic made with Gin, maraschino liqueur, lime juice, and Green Chartreuse. The Bijou combines the green herbal liqueur with Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and orange bitters.
Different types of Chartreuse
Based on the traditional Green Chartreuse, other types of Chartreuse evolved with time.
It began in 1840 when besides the mild green version, the sweet Yellow Chartreuse came up. But the recipes and the differences between them for the different Chartreuse versions are all kept secret.
In 2007, a special edition was released by the name Cuvée des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. It was a co-operation between the Chartreuse distillery and various Sommeliers, all amongst France's best craftsmen.
The result was a Chartreuse of yellow color at 45% ABV. As this was a one-time thing, I don't include it in the list below.
Let's start with the obvious. The Green Chartreuse is the most popular of all Chartreuse liqueurs. Made from a whopping 130 herbs and plants, it contains 55% ABV and is of natural green color.
Yellow Chartreuse is a lighter and sweeter version. Besides the milder aroma, the yellow color and the lower alcohol content of 40% are the key differences from the traditional version.
VEP stands for Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé which literally translates to Aging Exceptionally Prolonged.
In other words, this Chartreuse ages for a very long time, creating Chartreuse of excellent quality. You can get this amazing Chartreuse in both green and yellow.
Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse
That one is actually the traditional version of Chartreuse. Made of the same 130 ingredients as the Green Chartreuse, it contains 69% ABV of alcohol.
It is most comparable to the traditional recipe that resulted in a 71% ABV liqueur. This version is available for sale only in small bottles of 10cl, packed in wooden boxes.