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The Chartreuse, a liquor

One hundred and thirty plants…That is all that is known to this day about how Chartreuse is made. Not being able to reveal its secret recipe, let’s share with you some of this fabulous liqueur’s history.

The history of Chartreuse in 5 dates

1605 : The Marshal d’Estrées gives the monks of the Vauvert Charterhouse near Paris a manuscript, which reveals the formula of an “elixir”, of unknown origin, containing almost all the medicinal plants known at the time. The apothecary of the Grande Chartreuse, Brother Jérôme Maubec, studies the manuscript and definitively perfects the formula of what will become the Elixir Végétal of the Grande Chartreuse.

1764 : Green Chartreuse (55%), known as the “Liqueur of Health”, is perfected. It is an immediate success in the Dauphiné region.

1840 : the Green Chartreuse formula is adapted to produce a sweeter and less alcoholic liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse, which quickly becomes known as the “Queen of Liqueurs”.

1903 : the Carthusian monks are expelled from France. They take their secret with them and set up a distillery in Tarragona in Spain to produce their liqueur. They also produce this liqueur in Marseilles from 1921 to 1929, under the name “Tarragone”. They return to France some twenty years later, and to their old distillery in Fourvoirie in the commune of St Laurent du Pont, close to the Grande Chartreuse monastery.

1935 : a landslide destroys the Fourvoirie distillery. Production is transferred to Voiron where it continues to this day, using plants which are selected within the monastery itself.

The Marshal d’Estrée
Brother Charles going to sell the Elixir at the markets of Grenoble and Chambéry
Preparing the liqueur

Production today

Only the Carthusian Fathers know the names of the 130 plants used to produce Chartreuse. Two Carthusians, Dom Benoît and Brother Jean-Jacques, are in charge of production.

The 18 tonnes of plants needed every year are delivered to the Grande Chartreuse monastery in St Pierre de Chartreuse. In the “herb room” the dried plants are sorted, ground, weighed, and mixed in accordance with the 1605 recipe. They are then delivered to the Voiron distillery in large numbered bags.

Distillation : the plants are left to macerate in alcohol, and are then poured into stills. Heat leads to the alcohol absorbing the flavour of the plants and evaporating, before passing into a coil condenser cooled by water. After distillation one obtains a liquid known as alcoholate. The various alcoholates are mixed together, along with distilled honey, syrup, and a plant decoction that gives the liqueur its distinctive and natural colour. The Carthusians are the only distillers in the world able to obtain a green coloration in this manner, using plants.            

The ageing cellar : After several years’ ageing in oak casks, the liqueur is analysed by the Carthusian monks, who alone decide if the liqueur can be bottled and sold.

The herb room
The Distillery
The ageing cellar(164 metres long)