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Yellow Chartreuse: History and Review

Liqueur-Yellow-Chartreuse

Yellow Chartreuse: History and Review

Ah, Yellow Chartreuse, my lover in the night. Not as strong as your older brother, Green Chartreuse, but still strong, yet sweet; and honey notes for charm. Traditionally a herbal liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse will continue to be a best friend to the cocktail world.

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My rating for Yellow Chartreuse is a 9/10

I’d suggest you buy a bottling of Yellow Chartreuse. Here’s what Your Taste “Bud” found out.

Summary

Chartreuse is an aromatic liqueur, originally made by French Carthusian monks. It is made from a mixture of 130 different herbs and is aged in oak barrels. Chartreuse come in two varieties, green and yellow. They are HERBACEOUS, baby! Yeah, I’m loving that word. Remember it.

Green Chartreuse gets its green color from the addition of chlorophyll. It is higher proof, drier and spicier than the yellow variant.

Yellow Chartreuse is made with the addition of honey and is colored pale yellow with saffron. It is lighter and sweeter in flavor and is lower proof than the green variant.

Classic cocktails usually call for yellow Chartreuse, while the green version is more popular nowadays.

What’s Yellow Chartreuse

I’ll let the Carthusian Monks set this straight:

YELLOW CHARTREUSE 40% alcohol (80° proof US)

Milder and sweeter than the famous Green Chartreuse, Yellow Chartreuse was introduced to the world in 1838. It also is presented in the traditional Chartreuse liqueur bottle embossed with the seal of La Grande Chartreuse. Its color is entirely natural with no artificial flavors or preservatives. It, too, can be enjoyed neat or in a long drink.
Only two Chartreuse monks know the identity of the 130 plants, how to blend them and how to distill them into this world famous liqueur. They are also the only ones who know which plants they have to macerate to produce the natural green and yellow colors. And they alone supervise the slow aging in oak casks.

  • Ingredients: alcohol, sugar, 130 plants and flowers.
  • Alcohol content: 40% (80° proof US)
  • Presentation: Packaged in a traditional Chartreuse liqueur bottle. Very elegant with the embossed seal of La Grande Chartreuse.
  • How to drink it: To bring out all its flavor, it should be consumed very cold, even on the rocks. Traditionally considered an after dinner drink, Chartreuse is more and more being enjoyed as a long drink.

Another spirit with a secret. The French and the rest of the world love this drink. And so do I.

History

Chartreuse has a fun history. If you grab the bottle, it’ll give you a fast little history lesson. Something along the lines of “Chartreuse is an aromatic liqueur, originally made by French Carthusian monks. It is made from a mixture of 130 different herbs and is aged in oak barrels. Chartreuse comes in two varieties, green and yellow.”

Okay, but what does that mean?

400 years ago, in 1605, the Order of Chartreuse (a monastery in Vauvert, which is a small suburb about three hours away from central Paris) received a gift from Francois Hannibal d’ Estrées, Marshal of King’s Henri IV artillery. The Order of Chartreuse, made of monks living at the monastery, were given a manuscript called the elixir, or as it came to be known, “Elixir of Long Life.”

The origins of the manuscript are unknown but many suspect that it was most likely made by a 16th-century alchemist with a great knowledge of herbalism and the skills to blend, infuse, and macerate the herbs. The “Elixir of Long Life” is a complex recipe of 130 herbs, plants, and spices which are blended together to create a tonic. This tonic would become Chartreuse – after years of attempting to solve the enigma.

Although these monks had this manuscript, Herbalism was still in its early stages and as a result, the monks could only understand bits and pieces of the manuscript. Only parts of the elixir were used at the monastery in Vauvert. Until 100 years later, when the Order of Chartreuse handed the manuscript over to their superiors of the order, La Grande Chartreuse.

An Apothecary, named Frère Jerome Maubec, began serious in-depth work on the manuscript to unlock its full potential. Finally, in 1737, he was able to decipher the recipe and shaped it into a workable formula that the monks could use.

In the mountains near Grenoble, where La Grande Chartreuse resides, the preparation for the Elixir of Long Life began. This elixir was named “Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse”. It was called a “Liqueur of Health” with a whopping 69% abv, 138 proof. It contains all natural plants, herbs, and other botanicals suspended in wine alcohol – this elixir is still made and imbibed by the Carthusian Monks today.

Frère Charles(or Friar Charlie) was appointed the task of distribution and the sale of this early Chartreuse. The monk of Le Grande Chartreuse had limited sales, as he had to travel by mule to deliver small bottles to nearby villages.

Not surprisingly, the elixir was more often taken as a beverage than a medicine. The monks noticed this immediately and began to adapt the Elixir recipe.

In 1764, as we know it today, the monks created “Green Chartreuse” – it was a much milder version than the Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse, distilled at 55% alcohol, 110 proof. The road to success happened immediately and Green Chartreuse’s fame spread far beyond the monks’ vicinity. Herbaceous, baby, yeah!

Unfortunately, after a few decades, everything started to go downhill for the monks. In 1789, the French Revolution erupted and resulted in all Religious Orders being ordered out of France. In 1793, the Carthusian monks left their country. There was only one copy of the recipe made and it was held by one of the monks who remained at the monastery. Another monk, who held the recipe, tried to leave the country but was arrested and sent to a prison in Bordeaux.

The recipe was fortunately smuggled out with Dom Basile Nantas. He ended up selling the recipe to a pharmacist in Grenoble. This pharmacist did not end up concocting the recipe because Emperor Napoleon had it confiscated (Napoleon ordered all the “secret” recipes of medicines to be sent to the Ministry of the Interior, Monsieur Liotard). Fortunately, the “secret” recipe was refused and sent back to the pharmacist. When the pharmacist died, his heirs gave the recipe back to the Carthusian monks, who had returned to their monastery in 1816.

20 years later, in 1838, Yellow Chartreuse was created. The new recipe was a sweeter form of Chartreuse at 40% abv, 80 proof.

But once again, in 1903, things went sour. France nationalized the Chartreuse distillery and its trademark “Chartreuse” was sold to a company, that went bankrupt in 1929.

Luckily, the shares were bought by friends of the Carthusian monks; Chartreuse had returned home to the monks.

Today, as you know it, Chartreuse and the “Elixir of Long Life”, is still being made by Carthusian monks. YOU JUST CAN’T KILL THESE GUYS OFF – must be the elixir… One of the most heavily guarded secret and for good reason: The drinker can taste Chartreuse’s rich history from start to finish in every bottling.

My Take

As I boast throughout the post, I love Yellow Chartreuse. Everybody’s taste is definitely subjective and I can’t get over this herbal liqueur. And after researching Chartreuse, I like the products even more now.

I randomly stumbled upon Green Chartreuse and there has been many a night with Chartreuse on the rocks. Trust me.

As for Yellow Chartreuse and its use in cocktails… This is a very versatile product and it plays well with others, sometimes being the dominant flavor and at other times, playing a strong side character. This herbaceous liqueur is an ingredient that I won’t ever get tired of playing with.

As for shots, these guys are great. Green Chartreuse burns a lot more (I do enjoy them as well as Yellow) and two shots will keep you feeling alright.

A wonderful cocktail ingredient. Pairs well with a variety of spirits. Do you want to mix Yellow Chartreuse? Well, you should.

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CHARTREUSE ON THE ROCKS

on_the_rocks

INGRÉDIENTS

  • Yellow Chartreuse
  • Ice cubes

RECETTE

In a tasting glass:

  • Yellow Chartreuse
  • Ice cubes to taste

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More Curious Cocktailian

If you want to understand Liqueurs better, check out these posts:

Fernet Branca

And here’s the cocktail basics that every bartender needs to know:

An Easy Guide To Bar Tools

The Ultimate Guide To Making The Perfect Manhattan

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The Curious Cocktailian

Joseph Plant is a blogger, bartender, musician and anthropology student living in Canada.

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