Chartreuse is a French liqueur made from a mixture of 130 vegetable products soaked in alcohol, which is then distilled, then mixed with distilled honey and sugar. The alcohol is then put in oak casks, and let mature.
Profits from the sale of the liqueur are used to support the Chartreuse monastery at Grenoble, France.
V.E.P. Chartreuse stands for “Viellissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé”, meaning aged for an extra long time. These bottles, reproductions of bottles made in 1840, are individually numbered and sealed with wax. The VEP version has been made since 1963.
Best drunk cold, even with ice. For cooking, mostly used in desserts and mixed drinks, though the monks give one recipe for a savoury dish, Chartreuse Tomatoes:
2 lbs (900g) tomatoes
2 lbs (900g) peeled onions
salt and pepper
2 tbsp Green Chartreuse
1 tbsp heavy cream
Chop tomatoes and onions coarsely; melt butter; cook tomatoes and onion in the butter until soft.
Season with salt and pepper, stir in the Green Chartreuse, and cook for a further 3 minutes.
Stir in heavy cream and serve immediately.
The history of Chartreuse, like that of most liqueurs, has a lot of what seems to be legend and conflicting “facts”. The following is a summary of the most plausible timeline.
In 1605, a monastery at Vauvert, near Paris, France received a manuscript for a potion or elixir called “An Elixir of Long Life”, meant to be a medicine. The Vauvert monks, however, just filed it away and didn’t really use the recipe. By 1737, the manuscript had been moved to another monastery near Grenoble. The order of monks at Grenoble was founded in 1084. The monks were called both the Carthusians, and the Chartreuse order (because was founded in an area near Grenoble that was called the Chartreuse Desert.)
A Chartreuse monk named Jerome Maubec managed to decipher the manuscript and make the elixir. That elixir, as made strictly by the recipe, is still being made today. Called “Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse”, it is very strong at 71 % alcohol.
By 1764, the monks had found that medicinal qualities aside, people liked the taste. The monks decided to make and sell a less potent elixir at 55% alcohol which they called Green Chartreuse.
From 1793 to 1816, the monks made Chartreuse outside of France (they were expelled by the French Revolution.)
In 1838, the monks developed a milder, sweeter version at 40% alcohol, which they called “Yellow Chartreuse”. From 1860 to 1900, they also made a version called “White Chartreuse”.
In 1903, the monks were expelled again by the French government,. They took refuge in Spain, and built a distillery in Tarragona. The version they made there was called “Tarragone” Chartreuse. This distillery was kept open until 1989.
After the expulsion of 1903, the French government claimed and took over the rights to make Chartreuse, and sold the name to distillers who formed a company they called “Compagnie Fermière de la Grande Chartreuse”. The Chartreuse they made was not very good, and the company went bankrupt in 1929. The valueless shares were bought up and given to the monks, giving them once again control of the trademark.
The monks returned to France in 1932 and resumed production in Fourvoirie, France. In 1935, their distillery at Fourvoirie was destroyed by an avalanche. They built a new one in Voiron, 25 km from the monastery.
Literature & Lore
“Real G-g-green Chartreuse, made before the expulsion of the monks. There are five distinct tastes as it trickles over the tongue. It is like swallowing a spectrum.” — Anthony Blanche in “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh. (Blanche is speaking in 1923, before the monks had been able to return, and while the imitation was still being made.)