In 1084 AD, St. Bruno of Cologne formed an order of silent monks called the Carthusians. They resided in a valley of the Chartreuse Mountains, a region of the French Alps, near Voiron. By 1605, they were a large, well-respected order, and King Henri IV’s Marshal of Artillery presented the Carthusians with an ancient alchemical manuscript. It contained a recipe for an elixir that would prolong life.
But after looking over the document, even the most learned of monks were at a loss. The concoction called for 130 different plants. It required advanced distillation, infusion, and maceration techniques. No one could even decode the recipe until 1737, when the monastery’s apothecary finally produced a liqueur following the ancient text. Even then, it’s assumed he took creative liberties.
A lone monk delivered the first bottles of potent herbal tonic (which was 69 percent alcohol) to surrounding villages by mule. But it didn’t end there: In 1764, the Carthusians adapted the recipe into a milder liqueur called Green Chartreuse. The update, which was still potent at 55 percent alcohol, is the version we consume today. Some tasters describe it as an herbaceous, sinus-clearing drink that’s “almost mentholated in its immediate heat.” The monks themselves recommend serving it cold, either chilled or on the rocks.
Despite increasing demand, the order has continued the tradition of having just two monks handle the entire process. Only Dom Benoît and Brother Jean-Jacques know all the ingredients and how to turn them into the beloved, moss-toned liqueur. Once they’ve readied a batch, they age it in huge oak casks inside the world’s longest liqueur cellar. Several years later, the same men test the product and decide if it’s ready for bottling. That’s where their work ends, as all subsequent phases of production are handled by other parties.
The liqueur is now sold all over the world, with funds going toward the monastery. Buying alcohol lauded for longevity and a righteous cause? You’d be a sinner not to drink to that.
Need to Know
The monks age their Green Chartreuse in the world's longest liqueur cellar. The tours are usually in French. If you would like an English tour, check availability on the monastery's website. Of course, they include a tasting. In addition to Green Chartreuse (and Yellow Chartreuse), the monks also make a version of the original manuscript's herbal tonic for longevity. It's sold as “Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse.”