In the heart of the mountains north of Grenoble, France, the ancient Carthusian order of monks live a cloistered existence of silence and prayer. Many religious orders generate income by making honey or jam to sell, and in this, the Carthusians are no different—not much, anyway. They distill liqueurs, including Chartreuse, a spirit that has inspired a devout following among a more secular demographic: cocktail drinkers.
The liqueur’s story is hard to resist. A secret recipe presented to the order by a French diplomat in 1605 was refined into an herbal concoction widely prized as a medicine and touted as an “elixir of long life.” Though Chartreuse shares flavor notes with the alpine spirit génépy (named for the plant that shapes its flavor), only two monks know the full roster of herbs and plants used in Chartreuse’s creation, some 130 of them. “Unlike your average recipe that calls for 2 ounces of this, 3 milliliters of that, this starts in Latin and says ‘Pick herb at midnight; macerate until morning dew,’ ” says Tim Master, the director of national spirits for importer Frederick Wildman and Sons.
Chartreuse’s two sweet, herbal styles bear the colors of alpine spring (Chartreuse is famously the only spirit to have a color named after it). There’s the lower-ABV yellow version, sweetened with distilled honey, and the powerful, 110-proof green. Both share the same roster of herbs, says Master, in different proportions and added at different points in the maceration and distillation processes. Those in the know are aware that yellow Chartreuse has saffron added, but secrecy around the recipe means even its reps are kept in the dark. “I’d like to make brand T-shirts that say, ‘We don’t know,’ ” jokes Master.
What is certain is that Chartreuse is beloved among bartenders. The liqueur appears in classic cocktails including the Bijou and the Champs-élysées, but for a period in the ’70s, it was known mostly for a drink called the Swampwater, a frat-punchy mix of pineapple, lime and green Chartreuse. But when Seattle bartender Murray Stenson unearthed an old recipe for the Last Word in the early ’00s, the liqueur’s reputation grew, and today, Chartreuse is mixed in modern classics, such as the Chartreuse Swizzle from San Francisco bartender Marcovaldo Dionysos.
Here are 20 recipes featuring both the green and yellow varieties.
Dead Rabbit Tipperary Recipe
A classic cocktail with Irish whiskey.
Green Eyes Cocktail
From bartender Andrew Volk of Portland Hunt & Alpine in Portland, Maine.
Last of the Oaxacans
A riff on the most iconic Last Word with mezcal.
Lost in Laos
The Lost in Laos cocktail aims to highlight traditional flavors of Thai cooking.
A vibrant mix of gin, green Chartreuse and cucumber.
Herbal flavors sing in this Negroni riff.
Herbal and fruit liqueurs interweave in this rye whiskey cocktail.
A playful, herbaceous take on the tropical swizzle.
A fragrant and herbaceous blend of aquavit, Chartreuse and sherry.
A tiki-inspired refresher made with aquavit and green Chartreuse.
A three-ingredient gem to add to your classic cocktail repertoire.
April in Paris
Vodka sets a neutral base for the delicious combo of strawberries and Chartreuse.
Daisy de Santiago
A simple mix of rum, lime juice and Chartreuse make up the classic recipe.
Tarragon syrup helps draw out the earthy tones of agave spirits in this gem.
Lavender lends a soft floral note to this smooth sipper.
No 2. Fleet Street
Modern gin botanicals perk up with pineapple, coffee and Chartreuse.
Ling Ling Collins
Gin, juice and other goodness.
A refreshing combo of gin and coconut from Smuggler’s Cove.
Naked and Famous
A modern classic made with mezcal.
This boozy mix evolves as it warms in the glass.