Enjoying the Elixir of Long Life: Green Chartreuse
Updated: May 29, 2020
Chartreuse’s story is as close to a fairytale as there is in the spirits world. In 1605, a French military officer visited the Chartreuse Order of cloistered monks (the “Carthusian”) at a Chartreuse monastery in Vauvert, France and gifted them an alchemical manuscript. The manuscript was titled An Elixir of Long Life, and it contained a recipe for an elixir comprised of 130 herbs, flowers, and spices.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the manuscript was sent to the mountains near Grenoble to the Mother House of the Order—La Grande Chartreuse. The Carthusians studied the manuscript, and in 1764, the Monastery’s Apothecary, drew up the practical formula for the preparation of the Elixir of Long Life.
Today, the Carthusians still make the Elixir of Long Life according to the 1764 recipe, but it is now called Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse (aka the Liquor of Health). Traditionally, it was sold as a medicinal curative rather than a liquor, even though it is 138 proof. Sadly, this product is not sold in the US. According to Jason Wilson’s book, Boozehound, the “monks cannot export their Elixir Vegetal to the United States, however, because the FDA mandates that ingredients have to be described fully on labels, meaning the Chartusian secret would have to be described in full on the labels.”
In 1789, the French Revolution erupted, resulting in the expulsion of Members of all Religious Orders. In 1793 the Carthusians left France, but not before they made a copy of the manuscript, giving it to a monk who remained in the Monastery for safekeeping. The original manuscript was on route out of France.
The original manuscript was later sold to a pharmacist in Grenoble, who never produced the Elixir. When the pharmacist died, his heirs gave the manuscript to the Carthusians, who had returned to their Monastery in 1816.
In 1840, the monks revised the elixir recipe to make a less alcoholic beverage—Green Chartreuse (55% ABV, 110 proof). Green Chartreuse is still distilled with 130 herbs, botanicals, and plants. That same year, they also developed a sweeter form of Chartreuse—Yellow Chartreuse (40% ABV, 80 proof).
If that wasn't enough for a tale about booze, the lore surrounding the distillation process takes things to another level. Two monks select, crush, and mix the secret herbs, botanicals, and plants used to create the liqueurs. Once mixed, the ingredients are taken to Voiron where they are first left to macerate in alcohol and then distilled. Next, the liqueurs are aged for several years in huge oak casks for maturation.
I’ve only skimmed over the recipe. If you want to read the full version, which I recommend, visit the Chartreuse website.
We’ve covered enough history to make me thirsty. Let’s make some cocktails with Green Chartreuse.
1 ½ oz gin
¾ oz Green Chartreuse
¾ oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
¼ oz absinthe
Combine all ingredients except for the absinthe in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Stir. In a coupe glass, add the absinthe and swirl the glass around so the absinthe coats the sides. Drink the absinthe (or pour it out, but we don’t like to waste alcohol). Strain the mixing glass contents into the coupe.
Disclaimer: John forgot to add the bitters in the video even
though he mentioned it. Rather than shoot the video again,
you get the blooper version. Enjoy.
Next up . . .
¾ oz gin
¾ oz Luxardo Maraschino (or any other maraschino liqueur, we prefer Luxardo)
¾ oz Green Chartreuse
¾ oz lime juice
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake. Strain into a chilled coupe.
Beyond its amazing history, Green Chartreuse is a delicious liqueur. It’s a bold ingredient that brings high alcohol (55% ABV), powerful herbaceousness, and sweetness to any cocktail. However, it can easily overtake a cocktail, which is why both of the drinks above only use ¾ ounce portions. As a base spirit, I enjoy using it in a Hot Toddy. Try it in lieu of whiskey or whatever spirit is your go to. The alcohol level, the sweetness, and the herbaceuousness are perfect additions to hot tea and lemon.
One last word on Green Chartreuse: if you walk into a restaurant or bar and you are unsure whether they make craft cocktails, look for this product. It’s bright green color is unmistakable, and it is a hallmark of any bar that takes its cocktail program seriously.
Sending mystical love to all,