Chartreuse cocktails have been a mainstay in bar menus for over a hundred years. But what is this green (and yellow) herbal liqueur? And why has it remained popular for so long?
Nestled in the French Alps is an isolated Carthusian monastery, where monks have lived a life of austerity for over 900 years. Their lifestyle has survived into modern times thanks to Chartreuse. The bright and sharply herbaceous elixir is shrouded in even more mystery: the recipe of over 130 herbs, roots, and flowers is known to only two people.
The history of Chartreuse began in 1605 when Duke Francois-Annibal d’Estrées discovered an ancient alchemist recipe for the “Elixir of Long Life” and gifted it to the Carthusians. The monks experimented with the recipe before sharing it with the neighboring town’s people in 1768.
By 1840, they had the recipe down to a science: the monks macerated over 130 botanicals in a sugar beet or grape spirit base and aged it in charred French oak barrels. The result was a 55% green Chartreuse and a sweeter, mellower 40% yellow Chartreuse. Both vibrantly colored, green Chartreuse with chlorophyll and yellow Chartreuse with saffron. They were sold for indigestion, sore throat, and nausea.
Today the 1.5 million bottles are sold to the world, the proceeds going to support 22 groups of Carthusian monks and nuns worldwide. Because the flavor of Chartreuse is nuanced, it’s a complex ingredient to add to cocktails or delightful on its own.
Despite its growth in popularity, In January of 2023, a statement by Chartreuse circulated which announced that the Carthusian monks will limit the production of the liqueur. Citing that their priority is to focus on their monastic life of solitude and prayer. As well, they have enviromental concerns about the global impact to produce and distribute their product. The full statement can be viewed here.
This by no means the end of the production of this beloved herbal liqueur only that is will be more difficult to find. If you are lucky enough to have either the yellow or green variety on hand, here are 13 recipes to make the most of it.
Green Chartreuse Cocktails
With fresh citrus, earth pine, bitter tea, and sweet anise, the powerfully herbaceous green Chartreuse adds complexity to many cocktail recipes. It is plays well with an array of flavors including citrusy lime, absinthe, pineapple, thyme, basil, and vanilla.
1. Last Word
The pre-Prohibition drink has been a classic Chartreuse cocktail since 1916. Made with gin, green Chartreuse, lime juice, and maraschino liqueur, it’s an equal parts sour cocktail and the inspiration for many variations.
Dating to the 1890s, the Bijou is from “the father of professional bartending,” Harry Johnson. It’s a vibrant, boozy drink with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, green Chartreuse, and a dash of orange bitters.
A blend of herbal, citrus, sweetness, and warm spice, the Chartreuse Swizzle is a modern tiki take on the Rum Swizzle. It’s a refreshing blend of green Chartreuse, velvet falernum, pineapple juice, and lime juice.
The Nuclear Daiquiri is a modern riff on the classic Daiquiri and is an explosion of flavor from the influential LAB bar in London. It’s sharp with a full-flavored rum, nutty falernum, tart lime juice, and herbal green Chartreuse.
An herbal take on a Piña Colada, the green Chartreuse tropical concoction is creamy, citrusy, herbaceous, and surprisingly balanced. You’ll need green Chartreuse, pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and lime juice.
The unique blend of earthy, smoky, bitter, and sweetness is rounded off with a silky palette in the Smoke Show. It’s made with mezcal, Cynar, green Chartreuse, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white for a memorable concoction.
The mellower yellow Chartreuse is not as heavy on the citrus and fresh flavors as green Chartreuse. It’s softer profile is still herbal but sweeter with notes of honey, and anise. Making it more approachable in a wider variety of cocktails recipes.
A relative of the Martini, the Alaska is bright, botanical, and bold all at the same time. The yellow Chartreuse adds a herbal layer, the orange bitters deepen its complexity, and the gin ties it all together.
Botanical and herbal Monte Cassino is a Last Word variation from 2010. It’s made with the subtler Chartreuse, botanical Bénédictine, warming rye, and bright lemon juice. The mix is unusual, but the contrasting flavors balance each other out.
A relative of the Brooklyn, the Greenpoint combines spicy rye, floral sweet vermouth, herbal yellow Chartreuse, Angostura bitters, and orange bitters for a bold cocktail that’s grounded and creative at the same time.
Dating back to 1876, the Brandy Daisy is a classic sour and likely the predecessor of the Margarita. The nuance of Cognac is balanced by yellow Chartreuse’s complexity and woven together with the tartness of lemon juice.