There’s a wonderful green liqueur called Chartreuse. It has an inimitable, complex herbal flavor. It somehow manages also to be both sweet and strong. And you can’t overlook the color. It’s such a marvelous color that we’ve named a color after it. Chartreuse is a genuine, multi-sensory pleasure to consume.
With a minimal number of changes, varieties, and interruptions (things like the French Revolution, a landslide, and WWII caused small and brief disruptions), Chartreuse has been made according to a secret recipe by the same house of French monks since 1737. They actually started trying to make it in 1605, but didn’t feel like they’d really nailed the recipe for another 100 years. Four hundred years of practice makes perfect.
To this day, only two living monks are permitted to know the secret recipe at any given time. Since a total of two men oversee the entire global production of Chartreuse, it’s a rather rare and expensive bottle of liquor. There’s a VEP version which is quite expensive indeed: about $170 per bottle (I once tasted a sip of that VEP version at a cocktail lounge. It was sublime). Even the standard version is pricey enough, at about $60, to make it the most expensive bottle in my bar.
Because of its steep price, I tried for a while to avoid stocking it in my bar at all. I knew from my experience of Chartreuse that I enjoy strongly flavored herbal liqueurs, but for a while I tried to be satisfied with somewhat less exclusive herbals, like the Italian digestifs Galliano and Strega.
These are quite pleasant liqueurs in and of themselves. But they’re not Chartreuse. Eventually, I broke down and bought a bottle. To be precise, I bought a bottle of Green Chartreuse. There’s also a yellow version, which is sweeter and somewhat lighter on the palate. I deal only in yellow. I think Strega and Galliano do a fine job of approximating Yellow Chartreuse.
I think Chartreuse is meant to be consumed straight or with a little ice, but to make the bottle last, I’ve gravitated toward using it in cocktails instead. Here are my top three.The first was a very pleasant surprise I ran across in the new Cambridge restaurant Puritan and Co. I was introduced to the next two by the eminent Boston cocktail lounge Drink.
Jump for Joy
This is a great drink for your friend who says that cocktails always taste too strong for them; using Vermouth as a base gives it a much lighter touch than a spirit-based cocktail. Don’t think of it as a drink for lightweights, though. It’s also simply a great drink, both smooth and complex at the same time. It particularly goes down well on a hot summer day; don’t tell anyone, but Steph and I have made a habit of bringing a thermos of it along with us on our trips to the beach.
- 2 oz. dry Vermouth (I use Boissiere)
- 1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse (though this is one where you can sub in Strega for a somewhat different, but still refreshing, flavor)
- Club soda to taste
Pour Vermouth and Chartreuse over ice in a glass. Stir. Float club soda on top.
This one is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Jump for Joy. It’s for your friend who really likes their cocktail to kick them. All of the ingredients have higher than average alcohol contents.
- 1.5 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
- 3/4 oz. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
- 1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse
Stir with ice in a mixing glass and strain.
A Chartreuse variation on the Negroni.
- 1 oz. gin
- 1 oz. sweet Vermouth
- 1 oz. Green Chartreuse
Shake with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a cherry, but not one of those bright red ones you find in ice cream shops; use a genuine Luxardo cherry (or the far cheaper than Luxardo but far better than the bright red ones from Filthy Foods).