Join us for a topic near and dear to the biddies: Chartreuse. It’s been hard to find lately, so the biddies dive into whether there really is a shortage (spoiler alert: there is), if the monks have stopped making it, and alternative liqueurs to try in your favorite cocktails.

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Sources:

New York Times, Why is there a chartreuse shortage?

B&B Spirit Shop, L’Herboriste Coiron Jaune

Liquor.com, Chartreuse Substitutes for Cocktails

Diffords Guide, Distillerie Benedictine

America’s Restaurant, Chartreuse vs Benedictine

Food & Wine, There’s No Need to Panic-Buy Chartreuse

Forbes, Monks Are Making More Chartreuse Than They Have in 100 Years

Washington Post, Chartreuse Liqueurs Popularity Has Soared

Study Notes On Chartreuse Shortage:

*Please note these are the literal notes we created to record the podcast and sections may be copied and pasted from our sources above.

HISTORY OF CHARTREUSE (EP. 49)

  • Created by the Carthusian Order, an order of the Roman Catholic Church that was founded around 1100
  • Chartreuse + Carthusian seem to be used somewhat interchangeably
  • In 1605 the monks received a gift from Duc Francois Hannibal d’ Estrées, Marshal of King’s Henri IV artillery: an already ancient manuscript for an “Elixir” soon to be nicknamed “Elixir of Long Life”.
    • The manuscript was probably the work of a 16th century alchemist with a great knowledge of herbs and with the skill to blend, infuse, macerate the 130 of them to form a perfect balanced tonic.
    • The manuscript’s recipe was so complex that only bits and pieces of it were understood and used 
    • Pick the herbs at midnight, allow to macerate till morning dew
    • Monks claim the recipe has never been written down but also said it’s been stolen so does that mean it was written down?
    • Tend to contradict themselves a lot adding to the mystery of the product
  • At the beginning of the 18th century, the manuscript was sent to the Mother House of the Order – La Grande Chartreuse – in the mountains not far from Grenoble.
    • The Monastery’s Apothecary, Frère Jerome Maubec, finally unravelled the mystery and, in 1737, drew up the practical formula for the preparation of the Elixir
    • The distribution and sales of this new medicine were limited. One of the monks of La Grande Chartreuse, Frère Charles, would load his mule with the small bottles that he sold in Grenoble and other nearby villages.
    • This “liqueur of health” is all natural plants, herbs and other botanicals suspended in wine alcohol – 69% alcohol by volume, 138 proof.
  • in 1764, adapted the elixir recipe to make a milder beverage which we know today as “Green Chartreuse» – 55% alcohol, 110 proof (55% alcohol) – this variation became popular throughout Europe
    • After distilling, it is left to age in oak barrels for years, forming its rich and complex flavors.
    • Mixed with honey to create Yellow Chartreuse

CHARTREUSE TODAY

  • The 130 botanicals that create the flavor of the liqueur are sorted by 2 monks, the only other person that knows the full recipe is the father of the order
  • Dom Benoit and Brother Jean-Jacques have been doing it for years now and are training monks to eventually take their place
  • The herbs are sorted within the monastery, then bags of herbs, labeled only by number, travel to the distillery in Aiguenoire
  • Distillation is done by workers with the monks assisting before the liqueur goes into huge casks to age
  • By having this job, their lives become a little more worldly than the other monks – they must interact with secular people and leave the monastery regularly 
  • They do not give interviews but they forsake a purely solitary spiritual life to do a chore that enables others to live that life fully
  • “It’s kind of a penance….they’re given that job and they do it out of obedience and devotion to the order, but generally its not a job that they would have picked”

ADVERTISEMENTS

  • Old ads show promotions of its origins, showing robed monks leaning over casks and focus on its expense and luxury
  • Says Chartreuse has mystical, even aphrodisiacal qualities
  • There was some success with the younger market in the 1970s with an ad featuring a glowing green cocktail called a swampwater and focused on the higher proof of the spirit
  • “More bang than a wallbanger, more fire than a sunrise”
  • The current presidents said that if the monks didn’t object to the ads, it’s probably because they never knew about them
  • “The cross is steady while the world turns”
  • 7 stars on logo represent the Carthusians’ founders including St. Bruno
  • A visit with some bartenders to Chartreuse…
    • Brother: “What are you doing with Chartreuse that makes me so busy?”
    • Bartender: “We make cocktails”
    • Brother: “Whats a cocktail”

LIMITED SUPPLY

  • The monks did decide in 2019 to limit production (NYT)
  • This rise in popularity directly conflicted with a collective decision that the monks quietly made in 2019 to cap production of their ingredient-intensive spirit in order to limit the environmental impact and to focus on their “primary goal” of solitude and prayer, as explained in a letter released in January.
  • “There’s only so much Chartreuse you can make without ruining the balance of monastic life,” said the Rev. Michael K. Holleran, a former monk who oversaw Chartreuse production from 1986 to 1990.
  • Production is currently set at 1.6 million bottles per year — the highest level since the late 1800s, when the Vatican pointedly reminded the Carthusians that they were monks, not businessmen.

THE SHORTAGE

  • Rise of cocktail culture has inspired the recent revival of Chartreuse’s popularity among bartenders and everyday consumers
  • Bartenders seem to understand:
    • “They have a higher purpose than making you Chartreuse everyday” (Orlando Franklin McCray – Nightmoves, Brooklyn)
    • “I’m not going to clamor for bottles or try to find some dusty ones. If we can’t get it, then we won’t have it”
  • “Chartreuse is not just a manufactured spirit. It legitimately is made by monks – there are three that know the recipes” – Kari Brandt, VP & GM of wholesale at Frederick Wildman & Sons (importer)
  • Recent coverage about the “shortage” has created a mad rush for the spirit which is partially responsible for the vacuum in supply
  • They want to keep business activity on a human scale and to help preserve the biodiversity by limiting the collection of plants essential to the recipe for liqueurs – some of which are rare
  • Limiting the volumes means committing to containing and then reducing our energy and raw material needs in a context of climate emergency
    • Also will allow the monks to develop a range of care and well-being products, herbal teas, and balms and reconnect with their herbalist knowledge
  • 2021 – Created a new entity called “Chartreause Herboristerie” which integrates the orders nuns, establishes sustainable plant cultivation and allows them to reconnect with their history
  • Both Green & Yellow Chartreuse will continue to be shipped to the US in the same or near the same quantities
    • Distribution of sales in 50% in France and 50% abroad

DUPES

https://www.liquor.com/chartreuse-substitutes-cocktails-8347632

(Yellow) L’herboriste Coiron Jaune

  • This bright yellow liqueur from Central France’s historic Aelred Distillery is made from around fifty plants, flowers, barks, and spices that are infused, macerated, then distilled and sweetened with honey before being placed in barrels for aging. 
  • For these complex herbal liqueurs, original recipes developed by the monks of the abbey are always scrupulously respected.
  • 1889

(Yellow) Dom Benedictine

https://www.diffordsguide.com/producers/41/distillerie-benedictine-sa/history#:~:text=B%C3%A9n%C3%A9dictine%20liqueur%20is%20believed%20to,to%20F%C3%A9camp%20to%20sample%20it.
  • 27 herbs and spices are used in the secret recipe, producing a combination of sweet, herbal, and warming notes. (Chartreuse 130)
  • The process includes infusing the botanicals with brandy and aging them in oak barrels for months.

Faccia Brutto Centerbe

Centerbe (facciabruttospirits.com)

  • Includes lemon balm, anise hyssop, nettles, and coriander
  • 20 botanicals
  • About 50$ a bottle
  • Made in Brooklyn

Elixir Vegetal – the concentrated medical iteration