One of the biggest revelations I’ve had about the world of cocktails is just how many monks were involved in making the secondary spirits that are such a vital part of so many drinks. Who knew that there was a veritable task force of them who worked so diligently to create these awesome recipes? And that doesn’t even include the number of them that continued to guard the recipes, keeping them a secret and ensuring that they always be followed according to traditions handed down for centuries. It’s an amazing thing when you think about it. The history of Chartreuse dates all the way back to 1605 when the monks of the Chartreuse monastery in Vauvert, a suburb of Paris, came to possess an ancient manuscript that contained a recipe for an “elixir of life.” The recipe had been developed by an extremely knowledgeable apothecary and was so complicated that only parts of it were used in Vauvert. At the beginning of the 18th century, the manuscript was sent to the Mother House of the Chartreuse Order where it was studied, broken down, and finally understood. It contained over 130 different herbs! And to think I sometimes pass up recipes for making dinner that have more than 6 ingredients in them. In 1737 the first version of the elixir was produced, but with a very high alcohol content. It was still in great demand, however, which prompted the monks to create a more drinkable version in 1764, and that is Green Chartreuse as we know it today. A sweeter version, Yellow Chartreuse, was developed in 1838 with an even lower alcohol content. Both versions of the liqueur are aged in huge oak casks, which contributes to their incredible smoothness. To this day, the responsibility of producing Chartreuse falls on the shoulders of two Carthusian monks and they are the only ones who know the secret recipe. This accounts for why Chartreuse is one of the pricier liqueurs! The good news is that it is available in half bottles.
We’ll focus on Yellow Chartreuse for today. Naturally colored by saffron, it has a complex flavor with lots going on, but the 2 main things that I taste are honey and anise. Kindred Spirits describes its flavor on their website as “sunny and warm,” which is a perfect way to think of it. If you’re sipping it alone as an after dinner drink, it should be very cold, so I usually pour it over 1 cube in a small glass. It tastes completely different than its green sibling; never substitute one for the other in a recipe. Although it seems to be a general rule that Yellow Chartreuse has a greater affinity for darker spirits, and Green Chartreuse for lighter, I absolutely love the Yellow with mezcal. There’s something about the way its smooth anise taste combines with the smokiness of the mezcal that is just a match made in heaven for me. I came across this recipe for a cocktail from Food & Wine called East of Eden a while back, and thought that it would be a perfect way to showcase the contribution Yellow Chartreuse makes to a drink. The original calls for tequila reposado; I substituted the mezcal, as well as Black Cloud’s charred cedar bitters to give the drink one last smoky hit on the finish. If you make this cocktail, try it first without the Chartreuse, and then add it in and try it again. You’ll taste its impact right away! As a bonus, we get an extra day of muddling practice. I muddled the ginger first because it needs a good bit of force, and then I added the basil on top and gave it one press and a turn.
East of Eden (my adaptation of a Food & Wine cocktail)
2 oz Del Maquey Chichicapa mezcal (or substitute your favorite)
1 oz Yellow Chartreuse
¾ oz lemon juice
¼ oz simple syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar, dissolved in boiling water until clear)
1 dash Black Cloud charred cedar bitters
1 thin slice of ginger and 3 fresh basil leaves for muddling
1 candied ginger cube and thin lemon strip for garnishing
Muddle the ginger and basil leaves with the simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker tin. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the garnishes) and fill with ice. Shake for 30 seconds until very cold. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with the candied ginger cube and lemon strip. Enjoy!
Vintage glass a recent eBay find.
Tomorrow we’ll move on to Green Chartreuse!