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The History of the Chartreuse Monk, Liqueur and Elixir

The History of the Chartreuse Monk, Liqueur and Elixir

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It is said that the Order of Chartreuse monks in it’s monastery in Vauvert, just outside of Paris, was giving a gift of a manuscript from Francois Hannibal d’Estrées, Marshal of King’s Henri IV artillery. An ancient manuscript for the mixture of a “Elixir” – “Elixir for Long Life” probably developed by a 16th century alchemist. Very few monks at this time understood the importance of treating illnesses with herbs and plants. The alchemist with his great knowledge and skill blended, infused, macerated and balanced 130 different plants and herbs for an extract that would become the “Elixir de longue Vie”. The manuscript’s recipe was so complex that only bits and pieces of it were understood and used at Vauvert.

 

It wasn’t till the 18th century that the manuscript was delivered to the Mother House of the Order – La Grande Chartreuse. There in 1737 The Monastery’s Apothecary, Frère Jerome Maubec started work on the mystery and came up with the formula to follow for future generations of monks. 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.

 

“Elixir of Long Life” ‘s recipe and making hasn’t changed for over 600 years at least and it is still completely controlled by the monks in La Grande Chartreuse – they won’t let the secret get out! This “liqueur of health” is all natural plants, herbs and other botanicals suspended in wine alcohol – 69% alcohol by volume, 138 proof.

 

People enjoyed the medicine so much they decided to use it as a beverage, around 1789 the monks decided to make a true beverage with less “Elixir” today it is known as the Green Chartreuse 55% alcohol, 110 proof. Success and recognition soon followed.

 

But the French Revolution in 1789 brought exile of all of Religious Orders. The French monks finally left France in 1793 with a copy of the manuscript in their bags. Another monk stayed back in the monastery with the original copy but was arrested and imprisoned, luckily they didn’t search him and luckily he was able to secretly pass the manuscript to Dom Basile Nantas (the monk thought). Dom Basile thought he could make some money but realized this was not his trade so sold the recipe to a Grenoble pharmacist Mr Liotard, but Mr Liotard never tried to produce the Elixir. In 1810, Napoleon ordered all secret formulas of medicines be sent to the Ministry of the Interior. Mr Liotard complied but the manuscript came back marked “refused” meaning not secret. When Mr Liotard died his heirs returned the manuscript to the Chartreuse monks in their monastery in 1816. The monks were again asked to leave by the French government in 1903 when the distillery was nationalized. But the monks weren’t bothered much because they moved to Spain and built a new distillery. The name had to change so it as known as “Une Tarragone”. The monks and its group of Friends bought back the shares and rights to the Chartreuse trademark in 1929. And they returned to the Monastery at that time to resume production of the true Chartreuse liqueurs and Elixirs.

 

Today, in La Grande Chartreuse, two monks select, crush and mix the secret herbs, plants and other botanticals for the production. This mixture is then taken to Voiron and divided into several batches and left to soak in vats in 96% alcohol. Nobody but the monks can enter this room. The product of the soaking is then poured in the stills by pipes and the distilling can begin. This process lasts 8 hours. Most of the distillation today is done in stainless steel stills designed especially for the Chartreuse monks but some of the copper stills used in the 19th century are still in use for certain series of liqueurs and for experiments. The monks are up to date and can make the necessary corrections by computer from La Grande Chartreuse.

 

The ageing process is also a secret, it lasts several years in the oak casts of the world’s longest liqueur cellar. Bottled on an automated line just upstairs and shipped through out the world from Voiron.

 

There are different types of Chartreuse – for tasting after the tour you’ll find …

 

The Green Chartreuse, the orginal, 55%, 130 plants soon a special label will be presented for it’s 250 anniversary.

The Yellow Chartreuse, a sweeter version with honey flower spices, 40%.

Liqueur of the 9th Centenary, a softer version of the famous Green, 47%, created to commemorate the 9th centenary of Chartreuse.

The Chartreuse MOF, best craftsmen of France sommelier, 45%.

Génépi of the Chartreuse Fathers, 40%, traditional liqueur of the Alps made from flowers of the same name grown on the high slopes of the Alps.

Génépi du Habert, sweeter version, 25%.

The Walnut wine liqueur, regional favorite, 23%.

The Gentiane, made from roots of alpine flowers, more of an aperitif.

 

 

All of these are tasted cold.

 

Also part of the Chartreuse products found in the store while exiting the the building after the tour and tasting. You’ll find

 

Chartreuse VEP “Exceptionally Prolonged Ageing” – aged in smaller barrels and for a longer period of time the VEP green or yellow has exceptional flavor and aroma.

 

The Vegetal Elixir is kept in copper cylinders because it doesn’t mature. It is also an after dinner drink but exceptionally tonic at 69%. Normally when sick put a couple of drops on a sugar cube and put it in your herbal tea or grog. The wooden box is to protect it from the light for better conservation.

 

 

 

 

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