The recipe for green Chartreuse is a renowned secret, closely guarded by silent monks, but there’s good reason it is popping up on more menus. Sales of Chartreuse have nearly quadrupled to over $11 million since the late 90s. This has made the “Queen of Liqueurs” a prerequisite on any new cocktail list. Neat Pour turned to a few experts for insight into what makes this mountain herb elixir so unique.
Kirk Estopinal, co-author of The Rogue Cocktail Book, told Neat Pour that the drink has long been popular in his native New Orleans. “The bars in New Orleans had it forever, even before the craft cocktail trend took hold. Every dive bar had as well,” explained Estopinal. “I’m not certain why, but it’s old and it’s French and we hold a special love for both of those things.”
The creation of Chartreuse is steeped in legend. According to the mythology, the monks of the Grande Chartreuse Monastery were given a formula for a secret recipe to preserve life around 1605. They were chosen “basically, because they were monks and not a corporation. So, they developed the formula for over a century before it was even bottled and sold. Initially, they sold only ‘Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse’ which was taken medicinally on a daily basis.”
Today, the original recipe is still sold, but green Chartreuse is far more common. The recipe for modern Chartreuse is also a closely guarded secret, but is widely believed to contain 130 different herbs. Estopinal explained that the tastes are local to the creators’ home monastery in Voiron, an Alpine village outside of Grenoble. “Basically, you’re drinking the essence of the forest around monastery. The old way of thinking is you find a plant with benefits and then use alcohol to preserve its essence forever,” he said.
Folklore holds that Chartreuse is prepared in three separate portions, and then mixed. Each group of monks reportedly only know how to make their own part, and do not travel together. The segmented process also makes vintage Chartreuse a treat. The recipe is never written down and each monk makes it slightly differently. Coupled with variations in the herb harvests annually, this means that no two years ever taste exactly the same. Bottles of favored vintages regularly fetch four digit prices at auction.
The liqueur was historically consumed straight or louched with water. Yet, over the last decade, chartreuse has gained a new foothold as a key cocktail ingredient. Konrad Kantor of New Orleans’ Cane & Table offered us some advice on incorporating Chartreuse into drinks. “You have a polarizing flavor [in Chartreuse] and it can be dominating in many drinks. However, it pairs well with other strong flavors.” Kantor noted that this coupling is well illustrated by common pairings with chocolate in drinks like the Pago Pago, and the Alpine tradition of spiking your hot chocolate. He added, “Acidic citrus juices also achieve a similar effect.
Recipe: The Last Word
The Last Word is one of the most popular craft cocktails out there. Although the drink was created during Prohibition, the recent resurgence is a recent phenomena sparked when Seattle bartender Murray Stenson of Seattle’s Zig Zag Café found the recipe in an old book.
- Combine all ingredients with ice in a shaker. Sake until chilled and mixed.
- Double strain into a coupe.
Recipe: Chartreuse Swizzle
The Chartreuse Swizzle was an instant classic upon it introduction. The cocktail can be found at countless bars and in the hands of many off-duty bartenders. However, the creation is relatively contemporary, the brainchild of San Francisco’s Marcovaldo Dionysos.
- Combine ingredients in a pilsener glass.
- Fill partially with pebble ice and swizzle.
- Fill remainder of the glass with pebble ice.
- Garnish with grated nutmeg and mint (or pineapple frond.)
Recipe: Poor Liza
The Poor Liza is under-the-radar modern classic beloved by cocktail nerds in the know. The drink was the creation of Toby Maloney at Chicago’s Violet Hour in 2008. It tastes like drinking a perfect pear in a glass.
- Combine the eau de vie, Chartreuse, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker. Add ice.
- Shake until chilled.
- Double strain into a coupe.
- Garnish with one dash Peychauds.