“Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur from the Grande Chartreuse!” – This was indeed the first sentence I encountered many years ago when I first came into contact with the liqueur from the green or yellow labelled bottle. It was uttered by a friend who had quickly researched what exactly this spirit was – and thereby left a big question mark. Although I am not a culturally uninterested person, one might forgive me for not immediately making sense of the term “Grande Chartreuse” at that time. (provided test products)*
The Grande Chartreuse or Great Charterhouse is the mother monastery of the Carthusian Order and is located near the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse in south-eastern France. The history of the monastery goes back far into the past, since already in 1084 a hermitage was built on the place of the monastery by the founder of the order, Bruno of Cologne. The more interesting year for us was 1605, when François-Annibal d’Estrées, a famous French marshal, is said to have given the Carthusian monks a recipe for an “elixir of long life”. Where the marshal himself got the recipe is uncertain. However, if you think that since that time the Chartreuse liqueur as we know it today has been produced continuously, then I must disappoint you. It was not until 1737 that the Carthusian monk Jérôme Maubec developed it into the Élixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse, which is still available today. In 1764, a somewhat milder version of the elixir, which was actually filled at 69% vol., was produced for the first time, namely the Chartreuse verte, which is known today. In 1838 the yellow Chartreuse jaune was finally added. Even today, only two monks of the great Charterhouse know the secret of the production, the exact mixture of herbs, spices and flowers and the correct maturation time in oak barrels.
According to the history of the liqueur, however, the year 1605 is considered to be the year of origin, which is why the so-called Chartreuse Day is celebrated on the 16th of May each year. And what’s the date today? Exactly! Happy Chartreuse Day to all of you!
Since then, Chartreuse has managed to become a truly indispensable part of any bar. There are countless classics that would not be what they are without Chartreuse. Furthermore, especially among many bartenders, a small shot of Chartreuse verte is often enjoyed neat and you will find the green and yellow bottle from New York to London to Tokyo almost everywhere as a natural part of the spirits assortment. With today’s article I would like to raise my hat to this success story. And I am happy to do so, because I appreciate Chartreuse as an ingredient immensely!
But I don’t just want to sing the praises of the French herb liqueur without reflection, I would also like to take a look at two bottlings that are extremely exciting in this process in my usual manner. Because in addition to the two standard bottlings and the already mentioned Élixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse, there are indeed other bottles with the name Chartreuse on the label. One of them is the Chartreuse Liqueur du 9° Centenaire, the other – fitting for today – the Chartreuse 1605 – Liqueur d’Elixir.
I would like to start with the latter, if only because today is supposedly its day of honour. Strictly speaking, however, this liqueur was first produced in 2005 – in memory of the year 1605, of course, so it is more or less the 400th anniversary bottle. With 56% vol. it is a pleasantly strong bottling, which alone promises aromatic fireworks. According to the manufacturer, the increased alcohol content is based on the usual drinking strengths of liqueurs in the times of Marshal François-Annibal d’Estrées (whose name, for me, who does not speak French, is a real challenge on the keyboard, not to mention the pronunciation).
It is really no easy task to write down tasting notes about today’s bottles, because the basic herbal recipe is unknown, the profile of the different bottlings despite the differences quite recognizably close together. So it makes only limited sense to list only the different, concrete associations here (which I will try anyway). Rather, the more abstract differences between the various bottlings seem to be of extraordinary importance. And, of course, their comparison with the two standard bottlings they are close to.
Tasting notes “Chartreuse 1605 – Liqueur d’Elixir”:
Aroma: Herbs, herbs, herbs! The programme is as straightforward as it is complex, because it is not easy to isolate individual nuances. I find mint, wormwood, rosemary, fennel, camomile, some pine needles, basil, sage – each blending together and only rarely flashing in isolation. The play of aromas is carried by an extraordinary harmony that makes this herbal liqueur so unique. The sweetness of the liqueur is strongly influenced by honey notes, a little dark candy plays into it, but above all it is a warm, deep sweetness that is already pleasing to the nose.
Taste: Powerful, voluminous, yet complex and with a heavy sweetness that frames the alcohol wonderfully, this is how the Chartreuse 1605 comes into play here. It presents the well-known, full herbal attack with the grace of a foil and knows how to delight. Here too, the herbs mentioned are recognizable, accompanied by honey and interwoven with each other. In spite of all the sweetness, a certain dryness resonates, which gives the liqueur an even more mature and differentiated touch. I like it very much!
Finish: long and herbaceous
Compared to the classic Chartreuse verte, the Chartreuse 1605 – Liqueur d’Elixir is a little more complex, it shows certain differences in the accentuation of individual herbs and turns out a little drier. It is similarly powerful and voluminous – in the end it is particularly suitable for fans of Chartreuse verte who do not want to deviate too far from their favourite, but are looking for something new. I really like it, which is why I used it directly in my favourite Chartreuse verte drink: the Last Word.
Last Word recipe (1605 version):
2 cl Chartreuse 1605 – Liqueur d’Elixir
2 cl gin
2 cl maraschino
2 cl lime juice
Preparation: Shake all ingredients in a shaker on ice and strain into a pre-cooled glass.
Glass: Coupette / cocktail
The other is the Chartreuse Liqueur du 9° Centenaire. This bottling has existed since 1984, again as an anniversary bottle, but for the 900th anniversary of the Carthusian soil. In the Grande Chartreuse people honor history very much; not surprising, when you can look back on such a proud age. The design of the bottle for this liqueur is based on the 18th century Chartreuse liqueur bottlings; its content only has an abv of 47%, which is a little weaker compared to the 1605. It matures for at least 5 years in oak barrels.
Tasting notes “Chartreuse Liqueur du 9° Centenaire”:
Aroma: Ok, I feel a bit silly to write it again, but of course there are herbs, herbs and again herbs first! Anise, lemon balm, mint, wormwood, rosemary, sage, fennel, even basil I can find, plus some pepper and of course a nice honey sweetness. Compared to the 1605, it appears softer, the sweetness a little more superficial, but the typical Chartreuse character remains.
Taste: Gentle, slightly softer, but still powerful with a full load of herbs, honey and a very light, aromatic white pepper. In fact, the taste can be described as a kind of hybrid of Chartreuse verte and Chartreuse jaune.
Finish: sweet, herbal, also long lasting
Compared to Chartreuse jaune, this is clearly a more voluminous and powerful representative, not as strong as Chartreuse verte, but more complex and incredibly interesting. Especially for all those who want to give their Chartreuse jaune drinks more complexity and power without distorting them too much or simply reaching for the green labelled bottle.
It was with this in mind that I tried my Chatreuse jaune favourite, the Widow’s Kiss with the Chartreuse Liqueur du 9° Centenaire – and I was thrilled by the result!
Recipe “Widow’s Kiss (9° Centenaire version)”:
4.5 cl matured Calvados
2.5 cl Chartreuse Liqueur du 9° Centenaire
2 cl D.O.M. Bénédictine
2 Dashes Angostura
Preparation: Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass on ice until cold and strain into the pre-cooled glass.
Garnish: Griottine cherry
To be blunt, I really love both bottlings! As mentioned above, I’m a big fan of Chartreuse liqueurs anyway, and I think these two bottles are an absolutely great opportunity to extend the range of tastes that can be served with the French herbal elixir. For your orientation, it may not come as a surprise to see the Chartreuse 1605 – Liqueur d’Elixir primarily as an alternative to the classic Chartreuse verte. Accordingly, the Chartreuse Liqueur du 9° Centenaire is an alternative instead of Chartreuse jaune. But of course, this is by no means a blanket statement. My two Chartreuse favourites, the Last Word and the Widow’s Kiss, both work very well with the respective special bottlings I reported on here today.
Buying sources: At specialized retailers or online
*The fact that these products have been sent to me free of charge for editorial purposes does not – in any way – imply any influence on the content of this article or my rating. On the contrary, it is always an indispensable condition for me to be able to review without any external influence.