Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Chartreuse

Green Chartreuse is the only liqueur in the world with a completely natural green colour and is made by Chartreuse monks to a recipe that was given to them in 1605. The Order of Chartreuse (The Carthusians) was founded in 1084, making it – at more than 900 years old - one of the oldest religious orders in Christianity. Its founder Saint Bruno was born in Cologne, Germany, in circa 1030.

The recipe was a gift from the Marshal of Artillery for King Henri IV and was an ancient manuscript titled "An Elixir of Long Life". By 1737, the manuscript was in the mother house of the order - La Grande Chartreuse - in the mountains not far from Grenoble. Here an exhaustive study of the manuscript was undertaken. The monastery's apothecary, Frère Jerome Maubec, was in charge of the study which finally succeeded in unravelling the complexities of the recipe.

The French Revolution erupted in 1789. Members of all religious orders were ordered out of the country. The Chartreuse monks fled in 1793 and, as a measure of prudence, made a copy of the precious manuscript. One monk was allowed to remain in the monastery and he was charged with preserving the copy. The original was given to the charge of another monk.

The monk was arrested by the Revolutionary forces and sent to prison in Bordeaux. Fortunately, he was not searched and was able to secretly pass the original manuscript to some unknown saviour who smuggled it back to the area of La Grande Chartreuse where he was able to get into the hands of a Chartreuse monk who was hiding near the monastery.

Today, this "Elixir of Long Life" is still made only by Chartreuse monks following that ancient recipe, and is called Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse. This "liqueur of health" is all natural plants, herbs and other botanicals suspended in wine alcohol – 71% alcohol by volume, 142 proof. The elixir found popularity as a beverage rather than a medicine. Recognizing this, the monks, in 1764, adapted the elixir recipe to make a milder beverage which we know today as "Green Chartreuse" liqueur - 55% alcohol, 110 proof.

Only two monks have been entrusted by the Order with the secret of producing the liqueurs. Only these two know the ingredients and how they are prepared. What little is known is that some 130 herbs, plants, roots, bark and leaves are soaked in alcohol for an unknown length of time, then distilled and mixed with distilled honey and sugar syrup before being put into large oaken casks and placed into the world's longest liqueur cellar for maturation. In 1833 a milder and sweeter form of the Chartreuse Elixir was made which is known as Yellow Chartreuse.

No comments: