It’s not every day you get an opportunity to attend a Chartreuse masterclass presented by a Chevalier. Dressed in monk garb, Chartreuse Brand Ambassador and Chevalier Nathan Bradbery – who has been bestowed the title of honorary member of the Chevalier order – presented a tasting session that summarised 900 years of history of the herbal liqueur.
Chevalier Nathan Bradbery – Photo by © Kevin Burke – All rights reserved
The history of Chartreuse dates back to 1084 when it was established by Saint Bruno of the order of Carthusian monks who were given a parcel of land in St Pierre de la Chartreuse near Grenoble – a solitary order of monks who believe in living and praying and choose not to speak.
In 1605, at a Chartreuse monastery in Vauvert, the monks received a manuscript of an “Elixir” from Francois Hannibal d’Estrées, Marshal of King’s Henri IV which later became known as the “Elixir of Long Life”. It was believed that it came from a 16th century alchemist with inordinate knowledge and skill to blend and macerate some 130 herbs and create a tonic.
The manuscript was complex and difficult to interpret and after exhaustive studies were undertaken, it was in 1737 that the formula was deciphered and the elixir was made. People enjoyed consuming it as a beverage and in 1764, the recipe was adapted to create Green Chartreuse.
Chartreuse is made from a secret recipe of herbs and spices only known by two monks. As a safety precaution, they are not allowed to travel together, or travel by air or car. As an added measure of protection, the Manager signs off on blank order form and the monks often order or less of some of the 130 herbs that go into making the liqueur to confuse suppliers.
The production of Chartreuse moved from copper stills to stainless steel stills with 95% of the process controlled by computers. The liqueur is aged in 164 metre long cellars built in 1860 and extended in 1966. The barrels used for ageing are very large with a circumference almost 1.5 times taller in than a person and therefore are built in the cellar. Only exceptional batches are aged in smaller barrels which make up the VEP range. Much like wine, Chartreuse continues to age in the bottle.
Green Chartreuse is based on the original elixir or (Chartreuse Elixir Végétal) and is made from 130 botanicals. Its distinctive green colour is all natural and is attributed to the properties of the herbs. At 55% ABV, it has a strong alcohol burn which can be reduced by the addition of ice. The flavour is pronounced vegetal and herbal flavour.
Yellow Chartreuse was created 1840 when Brother Bruno Jacquet adapted the formula to produce a yellow version of the liqueur with the addition of honey. Sweeter and more palatable with a lower ABV of 40%, Yellow Chartreuse has a gentler herbal character.
Introduced in 1963, the VEP range, or Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé which means exceptionally long ageing, is the product of longer matured Green or Yellow Chartreuse for a minimum of eight years. The ABV of the Green VEP Chartreuse drops to 54% while Yellow VEP Chartreuse increases to 42% due to the effect of honey during the ageing process. Both are extremely smooth, individually numbered and will be available in Australia later in the year.
The Liqueur du 9ème Centenaire was developed in 1984 to commemorate the foundation of the Chartreuse Order. Chartreuse 1605 green label was launched in 2005 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the manuscript.
Chartreuse “MOF” is the latest incarnation created in 2007 and stands for Chartreuse Cuvée des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Sommeliers and suits an after dinner style of drink. This liqueur will also be available in Australia later in the year.
Worthy of a notable mention, Élixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse (69% ABV) is the original tonic made by the Chartreuse Monks since 1737 according to the secret recipe handed to them by Maréchal d’Estrées in 1605. Not available in Australia, the potent elixir has strong and pleasant medicinal and herbaceous flavours. One taste of this “elixir of long life” is an unforgettable experience.
The Chartreuse masterclass was held at Rabbit Hole Bar on Monday 6 May 2013.
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