March 23, 2023 by Anna-Bet Stemmet
Modern-day Chartreuse cocktails are a bit like Tom Hanks. See, Mr. Hanks is very famous in his own right thanks to his performances in movies like Forrest Gump and Captain Phillips. However, he also happens to be the third cousin (four times removed) of Abraham Lincoln, who passed the Emancipation Proclamation and is known as one of history’s most prominent American presidents.
Similarly, Chartreuse cocktails are very tasty and intriguing in their own right, but also feature one of the world’s oldest and most revered liqueurs as its main ingredient. You just have to love sipping on a drink made with a liqueur that has been around since 1764 and is made by a solitary order of French monks that was founded in 1084 (of whom only two know the full recipe at any given time…). So fancy!
The fascinating early history of Chartreuse
The story of green and yellow Chartreuse starts in the self-sustaining gardens of a monastery in Vauvert, on the edge of the capital, in the current Jardin du Luxembourg.
Here, in the 1200s, an order of Carthusian monks with a keen interest in pharmacopoeia crossed paths with two doctors who were zoning in on the qualities of medicinal plants and had just presented a new medicine in the form of brandy.
Working alongside these trailblazers to develop a series of therapeutic essences called eaux-de-vie (water of life), the revolutionary monks were later gifted a mysterious recipe for a powerful elixir for ‘long life’ by French diplomat François-Annibal d´Estrées, who had learned of their work. It was highly complicated, and the monks set to work to understand its intricacies in 1605.
The journey from elixir to liqueur
After more than 100 years, the order succeeded in condensing the formula to seven pages, and the first iteration of green Chartreuse was born in 1764. To this day, only two members of the Carthusian order in southeast France know the full recipe for the liqueur that would eventually be marketed as Chartreuse (with the famous L. Garnier signature as a mark of authenticity) at any given time. It’s that good.
Happily, it is still being produced and manufactured today by the Chartreux Fathers in their Aiguenoire distillery in Entre-Deux-Guiers, albeit in small quantities.
DID YOU KNOW? In January 2023, the order sent out a press release stating that, “In 2021, the decision was made by the Carthusian monks not to increase the volumes of production for the Chartreuse liqueurs. They are limiting production to focus on their primary goal of protecting their monastic life and devote their time to solitude and prayer.”
In short, the monks want to do what monks do. Fair enough! But it does mean that liqueur production is not ramped up in relation to demand, so everyone needs to play nice and enjoy what’s available.
What is the difference between Yellow Chartreuse and Verte (Green) Chartreuse?
Officially launched in its current form in 1840, ‘Chartreuse Verte’ is the green liqueur that later inspired the name of the eponymous color. ‘Chartreuse Jaune’ is the lower-ABV yellow variety that was rolled out in the same year and has a completely different vibe.
Verte (Green) Chartreuse
‘Chartreuse Verte’ is renowned for its natural vibrant green colour, as well as its potency and aromatic complexity derived from a blend of 130 plants, flowers, bark, roots, and spices. It boasts an intense, herbaceous, peppery aroma that captivates the senses.
Minty notes, pine sap, and zesty citrus fruits are foremost on the palate, with a bittersweet tea finish that lingers on the tongue, enhancing the overall tasting experience. It’s a bold and flavourful spirit with an ABV of 55%.
‘Chartreuse Jaune’ is known for its intense yellow hue and fresh, spicy aroma that invigorates the senses. Its structure is gentle and mellow, with hints of turmeric, citrus, and anise on the palate. Floral notes complement the flavour, providing a vast tasting experience. With a 43% ABV, it is a smooth and delicate spirit, adding subtlety and softness to many drinks.
Read next: What is ABV anyway?
10 Most popular Chartreuse cocktails
Captivating, right? Now that you know the backstory of this famous liqueur, let’s talk about Chartreuse in cocktails. Both liqueurs are perfect as a digestif and are best served chilled between 12 °C and 13 °C or on ice. Its unique composition has also made it a favourite ingredient in cocktails and cooking for both sweet and savoury recipes since the 19th century.
Here is a selection of our favourite Green and Yellow Chartreuse cocktails to get you excited about experimenting with this historical herbal liqueur at home.
1. Last Word
Arguably the most famous Chartreuse drink around, the Last Word cocktail is a true classic that will never go out of style. It is a beautifully balanced drink that walks a fine line between the subtle sweetness and inviting tartness, underpinned by the captivating aroma of ripe cherries and bitter herbs. Refreshing and delicious!
2. Naked and Famous
The Naked and Famous Chartreuse cocktail is a modern classic that has the honour of being on the International Bartender’s Association list of official cocktails. Each ingredient has a powerful flavour, but when shaken up with Chartreuse, creates a one-of-a-kind drink that’s the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and smoky.
Bijou means ‘jewel,’ and this singular drink is a rare find indeed. This Prohibition-era cocktail combines 45ml Bulldog Gin, 30ml Cinzano Vermouth Rosso, 20ml Green Chartreuse, and two dashes of orange bitters. Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry, if preferred.
4. Fernet Sour
Sweet, sour, bitter, and refreshing all at once, the Fernet Sour is a nuanced drink that is sure to impress. Add 30ml Fernet-Branca, 30ml Green Chartreuse, 30ml lime juice, and 30ml sugar syrup to a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice and shake until cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wheel.
A wonderfully herbaceous spin-off of the Dry Martini, the Alaska cocktail is bracing and bold. Add 30ml Bulldog Gin, 30ml Yellow Chartreuse, and 1 dash orange bitters to a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe or Nick & Nora glass. Express the oil of a lemon twist over the top and then drop it into the drink.
6. Love & Murder
Campari cocktails have been taking the world by storm, and with good reason – the bitter aperitif provides a strong and charismatic backbone to just about any drink. The Love & Murder cocktail was named for a Broadway play, and calls for 30ml Campari, 30ml Green Chartreuse, 30ml lime juice, 20ml sugar syrup, and 4 drops saline solution (5:1 water to salt). Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled glass and serve.
Created at NYC’s legendary Milk & Honey bar by Michael McIlroy in 2006 and named for the Brooklyn nabe, the Greenpoint cocktail is a riff on the Brooklyn version. Add 60ml Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey, 15ml Yellow Chartreuse, 15ml sweet vermouth, 1 dash bitters, and 1 dash orange bitters to a mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.
8. Trato Hecho
If you love a zesty lime cocktail, make a note to try this Trato Hecho cocktail next! Combine 20ml pineapple-infused mezcal, 20ml Green Chartreuse, 20ml maraschino liqueur, and 20ml lime juice in a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and serve.
9. Piña Verde
Adore a Piña Colada? Then you’ve got to try the Piña Verde. Add 45ml Green Chartreuse, 45ml pineapple juice, 15ml lime juice, and 20ml cream of coconut to a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice, and garnish with a mint sprig if you’re feeling fresh.
10. Honeysuckle Julep
The Mint Julep will always be a classic, and this floral riff on the original also makes for some seriously smooth sipping. Muddle 2 white peach slices and 15ml honey syrup in a Julep cup or rocks glass. Add 10ml Yellow Chartreuse, 60ml Bulldog Gin, and crushed ice, and stir. Add more crushed ice to mound over top. Garnish with honeysuckle or other sweet, fragrant flower and a thin slice of lemon.
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