A jealously guarded recipe
More than a century’s research, experimentation and study were needed to develop the recipe for Green Chartreuse. Just like the great alchemists, the apothecary monks passed on their knowledge and expertise within the monastic community, maintaining the greatest secrecy.
Perfected in 1764 by Brother Antoine Dupuy, one of a long line of apothecary monks, Green Chartreuse is based on a vegetable elixir. Since the beginning of the 18th century, Chartreuse has been sold successfully all around the world without its recipe being copyrighted or patented – the formula has never been protected in any other way than through the seal of secrecy. The liqueur is inimitable, “often copied, never equalled”. Even today, the names of all the plants used to make Green Chartreuse are known to only two monks at the Grande Chartreuse monastery, Dom Benoît and Brother Jean-Jacques, masters of an intricate process handed down from generation to generation. In turn, one day they will pass on their secrets to their successors: selection and milling of the plants, preparation of the distillates, maceration, and production of the precious alcoholates, following techniques developed by perfumers, for whom alcohol is the base for transmitting fragrances.
The recipe for Green Chartreuse includes parts of 130 plants: flowers, leaves, bark, roots, spices and seeds are mixed together to produce Chartreuse’s unique bouquet.
It is impossible to recognize with certainty any one perfume or plant. Marjoram, mugwort, lemon balm, lavender, sage, hyssop and wild thyme are all known to have medicinal properties, but are they part of the recipe? Carthusian pinks, common centauries, gentians and fir shoots dot the flanks of the Chartreuse Mountains, but have they found their way into the apothecary’s painstakingly elaborated book of spells? Herbs from the mountains, spices from the Orient and the Americas, they all have one thing in common – they feature in the manuscript François Hannibal d’Estrées gave to the monks and formed the list of plants known to have medicinal properties in the 17th century. Today, 65% of the plants used to make Chartreuse come from the Chartreuse Mountains; the remaining 35% come from the rest of France and from around the world.
Green Chartreuse is a spirit, that is, an alcoholic drink produced by distillation and maceration. Maceration is the process of steeping a plant in a distilled alcohol in order to extract an active ingredient.
Distillation consists of heating a liquid to its lowest boiling point and then condensing and liquefying the resulting vapours.