Chartreuse cocktail (photo by iStock)
Food + Drink

That’s the Spirit: Chartreuse

Sip on the spirit known as the elixir for “long life.” Its origins date back 1764, and the story of its rise to prominence makes for quite the cocktail-party tale. 

From whiskey to gin to vodka, the making of spirits often feels like a mysterious mixture of science and artistry. For one particular spirit, there’s another somewhat magical element — the romance of a secret.

Chartreuse, an herbaceous liqueur that comes in two shades, brilliant lime green and pale yellow, is produced only by French monks in the Chartreux Order. The only publicly known element of the liqueur’s recipe is a number: 130 plants. Which plants and how they’re distilled is a closely guarded secret.

Perhaps you’ve seen Chartreuse listed as an ingredient on a cocktail menu. The Last Word, a pre-Prohibition cocktail that’s recently made a comeback, contains gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice. This classic drink is one way to enjoy the spirit’s slight hints of spice, licorice and natural sweetness.

Of course, as with trying any new liqueur, it’s worth it to sip the spirit by itself to truly get a sense of its profile. Chartreuse should be served chilled — leave the bottle in the fridge for a few hours or pour a serving over ice.

Green Chartreuse offers notes of pepper, cloves, sap, mint and citrus; whereas yellow Chartreuse draws on turmeric, citrus, anise and floral hints. As you sip the spirit, lean into the natural instincts of your palate. Afterall, with over 100 unknown ingredients, a unique flavor experience might jump out at you.

In an age where it seems that all the information in the world is right at our fingertips, the secrecy of Chartreuse feels particularly novel. Especially when you consider just how long-standing this tradition is.

The Chartreux Order of monks’ lineage extends back to 1084, where a devout community living in the Chartreuse Mountains (note the namesake) dedicated to prayer, silence and living in harmony. Flash forward to 1605 (though the several hundred years between were far from uneventful), when French diplomat François-Annibal d´Estrées gave a mysterious manuscript, origins unknown, to the order. The document listed ingredients for an elixir for “long life.”

Years of experimentation and passing of knowledge between orders culminated in success in 1764 with the development of the Elixir of Chartreuse. However, it wasn’t until 1840 when the yellow Chartreuse and green Chartreuse on our shelves today began to be marketed and sold. The digestif quickly became popular and producing it became the monastery’s livelihood

Centuries have passed and the liqueur remains a cultural icon — from being distilled to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 to being referenced by artists like Bruce Springsteen and writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The perplexing flavor and endearing legend of Chartreuse make it the perfect staple for both your liquor cabinet and your story repertoire. Furthermore, the spirit may become more rare, as the French monks released a 2021 statement capping their production of the liqueur, as their priority is their faith, not meeting market demand.

While this decision for the monks not to increase production may seem surprising to many, we must remember that staying true to their morals is what created this spirit and kept it alive for the past several hundred years.

When you sip Chartreuse or mix it into a cocktail, take a moment to honor the art of an everlasting culture.

RECIPE: The Last Word
¾ oz. gin
¾ oz.  green Chartreuse
¾ oz. maraschino liqueur
¾ oz.  lime juice
1 Brandied cherry

Add the gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice to a shaker with ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.

Interested in tasting this unique spirit? Use to search for a store near you that stocks Chartreuse.

Proof Magazine is for Ohio spirit lovers. It is produced by Great Lakes Publishing three times a year. Dont miss an issue by subscribing to Ohio MagazineView a digital version of the Proof Magazine Summer 2023 edition here.