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Chartreuse Liqueurs

Green Chartreuse, a strong green liqueur, gets its characteristic taste and colour from a secret blend of over 130 herbs which is made by Carthusian monks in the Chartreuse mountains just north of Grenoble. The monks had been making herbal elixirs at their monastery since the middle ages but it was in 1764 that Green Chartreuse was introduced.

Disaster strikes
All was going well until 1793 when the revolutionary government expelled all religious orders from France. It wouldn’t be the first time that Chartreuse would fall foul of the French state’s periodic bouts of anti-clericism. In 1816, the monks were allowed back and resumed production of their elixir. The name Chartreuse was trademarked in 1869 and since then the bottles have carried the signature of Dom Louis Garnier, the monk in charge of distillation. During the 19th century, three types were made at various times: the original Green Chartreuse, a sweeter Yellow Chartreuse coloured with saffron and a mysterious White Chartreuse, which is no longer made. Then in 1903 disaster struck - the monks were expelled again along with all other religious orders by the anti-clerical government of Emile Combes and the distillery was nationalised. The monks refused to give up their secrets and moved the operation to Tarragona in Spain. The nationalised Chartreuse company tried in vain to recreate the famous recipe but went bust in 1927. In 1929 the monks were allowed back into France and resumed production of the real Chartreuse but they kept the distilling in Tarragona as well, just in case, until 1989 - the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

Famous Chartreuse lovers
Bottles made before 1903 have become highly prized by aficionados. Chartreuse has a Madeira-like ability to last and improve with age. It has a starring role in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited , where Anthony Blanche describes “real g-g-Green Chartreuse, made before the expulsion of the monks. There are five distinct tastes as it trickles over the tongue. It’s like swallowing a sp-spectrum.” It’s not just Waugh, other writers and artists including Tom Waits, Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S Thompson have all shown their love for the green stuff over the years. As Quentin Tarantino said in one of his movies, “Chartreuse, the only liqueur so good they named a colour after it.”

The last word on Green Chartreuse
The original distillery at Fourvoirie in the early 1900s was destroyed in a mudslide so today Chartreuse is made at Voiron, also near Grenoble. It’s available in its classic green and yellow iterations as well as various limited editions. It’s delicious neat as a digestif or in cocktails like the Last Word - a sour made with Green Chartreuse, gin, maraschino liqueur and lime juice.

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