The recipe for green Chartreuse is closely guarded by silent monks, one of the most celebrated secrets in the spirits world. And, despite the liqueur’s mercurial rise in popularity, it often feels like the key to pairing this elixir with food is just as clandestine. The bold vegetal and anise laden flavors of Chartreuse make it an odd bedfellow for any meal. So, Neat Pour turned to the team at the NOLA’s Ace Hotel for some help understanding applications for the booming beverage.
The Green Machine
Internationally, sales of Chartreuse, the “Queen of Liqueurs,” nearly quadrupled to over $11 million since the late 90s. However, the roots of the liqueur are far older.
According to the mythology, the monks of the Grande Chartreuse Monastery were given a formula for a secret recipe for an elixir to preserve life around 1605. Basically because they were monks and not a corporation, they were able to take their time figuring out this peculiar prescription. In fact, the Carthusian monks spent over a century perfecting this recipe before it was even bottled and sold as ‘Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse.’
Today, the original recipe is still sold, but “green Chartreuse” is far more common. The recipe for the modern Chartreuse is also a closely guarded secret, but is widely believed to contain 130 different herbs. Legend holds that the liqueur is prepared in three separate portions, and then mixed. Each group of monks reportedly only know how to make their own part (through memory, there are no written instructions), and do not travel together.
Chartreuse was historically consumed straight or louched with water. Yet, over the last decade, chartreuse has gained a new foothold as a key cocktail ingredient. The strong notes of Chartreuse play well with other bold flavors that tend to eclipse common modifiers.
When it comes to food, the go-to coupling is neat Chartreuse with chocolate. In fact, it’s almost rare to attend a Chartreuse tasting where chocolate is absent.
We love chocolate, but how does one advance beyond the standards into a unique pairing?
Charting A New Course
Fortunately, the folks at New Orleans’ Josephine Estelle restaurant in the Ace Hotel recently contemplated the same issue. Executive Chef Chris Borges at the and Beverage Director Matt Ray were tasked with pairing a five course meal alongside the Chartreuse range.
Although the meal opened with a classic Last Word cocktail as an apertif, the duo opted to match the food with neat Chartreuse.
“I feel like you’re going to have a pairing, it defeats the purpose to mix too many other flavors. The pairing is with the food, not the other elements in the cocktail,” explained Ray. “Undiluted, you can’t misconstrue [the flavors].”
The meal began with the Yellow, honey forward Chartreuse expressions. The duo felt like this match was the simplest. “The easiest one to pair is the Yellow. Distilled honey, those honey notes come across so well that you can pair it with anything that pairs with honey: cream, ice cream, nutty, hazelnuts, figs,” said the Beverage Director.
In the case of this dinner, the team matched Yellow VEP with Winter Squash Sformato (apple, cauliflower, golden raisin, chestnut honey, endive.) The sweetness of the liqueur, raisin, and honey complimented the nuttiness as well as the endive’s bitter ntoes.
For the second course, regular Chartreuse Yellow was matched up with Game Sausage Hash (duck confit, sunchoke, mushroom, farm egg.) This combo is a riff on the classic pairing of sweet beverages with fatty proteins like duck.
“Sauternes and foie-gras is the classic french pairing. Fortunately, Sauternes and Chartreuse are pretty comparable in terms of sweetness and it works well,” noted Ray. He mentioned that vanilla and cream also work well with the Yellow.
Perhaps, the most difficult pairing of the range Chartreuse Green VEP. The signature expression is renowned for extremely forward flavors, not to mention a whopping 54% ABV.
“The VEP are flavor bombs, so complex and rich. There’s not only sweet but high proof. Almost like an umami bomb,” reflected the pro. “It coats your tongue, all these flavors are hitting you simultaneously.”.
The Ace crew decided to fight fire with fire. They chose the equally strong flavors of the VEP to serve alongside Duroc Pork Tenderloin (osso bucco risotto, kale, cardamom).
“Chef was actually worried that the food would have to be equally over the top,” explained Ray “He threw the kitchen sink at it, worried about the food standing up.” The tact worked and the takeaway was ‘big flavors need even bigger flavors alongside them.’
Finally, there is that original formula for Chartreuse which is now sold as Chartreuse Elixir Vegetal. Ray described that flavor as “unsweetened, straight herbaceous booze, insanely intense.”
For the dinner, Chef opted to serve a cheese board. The tastes and textures provided foils for one another.
Yet, the true pairing was found in the delivery vehicle. The bar staff went with a classic French presentation. A few dashes of Elixir on a sugar cube as opposed to a sip changed the entire experience of “drinking” transforming the Chartreuse down to its essence.
Whether that essence will give you long life as the monks believed is open for debate. However, it’s clear that Chartreuse is much more than a bully behind the bar. The liqueurs versatility is on full display alongside food.