Chartreuse Tasting

by Jen on March 4, 2011

Our friends Rosalie and Connor inspired us to take out our green and yellow Chartreuse and have a tasting.

A French liqueur, Chartreuse has been made by the Carthusian Monks since the 1740s.  Nowadays it’s produced in a factory in a nearby town, and it’s one of the few alcohols to improve its flavor in the bottle.

Composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbal extracts, I remember adamantly disliking it the first time I tried it. I was willing to give it another shot.

Chartreuse comes in two varieties: green and yellow.  They both resembled the color chartreuse, and the liqueur gives that color its name.

We poured small amounts of each variety into tumblers and passed them around.  Alcohol kills germs after all.

The Green Chartreuse inspired Connor to free associate, “the favorite drink of the Austrian elk villa…cross-country skiing…festival of lights…scientology…theta count…Tom Cruise…Boys of Summer…”

Contrast that with his reaction to the yellow, “It tastes like sticking your head into a Chinese herb shop Amelie-style.”

Both flavors are very complex in flavor due to the 130 herbal extracts they are made with.

Rosalie said that the green made her feel like she has “dragon breath…burning [her] taste buds off”!  The yellow was “more refreshing” though it did make her “tongue numb.”

Picture Rosalie exhaling FIRE!

High praise for Chartreuse so far, eh?  Let’s keep in mind that if tasted straight, it should have been chilled (which I didn’t realize at the time of the tasting and Will neglected to inform me) and that most often it’s found in very small amounts in cocktails.

Once again, I found the taste of both to be…unappetizing. The green has hints of licorice, a taste I have never liked.

The yellow tasted almost grassy to me, and I preferred it to the green because the licorice taste was more subtle.  Both are viscous liquids that called to mind memories of cough syrup. I noted that the sweetness mixed with the intense herbal notes make it a truly interesting taste, if not my favorite.

Will noted that Chartreuse has an exceptionally high alcohol content, which is necessary to preserve the herbs.  Maybe that’s why Rosalie thought her tongue was on fire.  Connor chimed in that he heard a rumor that Bill Murray only drinks Chartreuse and bemoaned the fact that the two of them are not best buds…yet.

Three cheers for Chartreuse!  If nothing else, a great conversation piece.

Three cheers for Chartreuse! If nothing else, a great conversation piece.


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Will March 4, 2011 at 9:51 pm

This entry is unduly down on Chartreuse. The stuff is delicious, if intense.

Green Chartreuse is one of the old elixirs of western Europe, initially produced as an all-purpose tonic. Its peers in this category include Drambuie and Benedictine. It has a complex, long-lasting taste that varies considerably across its duration, no doubt a result of the numerous herbal and vegetal ingredients that give the drink its deep green color. It makes a great digestif, a “dessert” drink after a good meal.

Yellow Chartreuse is a lower-proof, less complicated drink. It was first produced around 1800, due to circumstances I haven’t been able to unearth. This is the one that they encourage you to drink on ice. At one time it was very popular and was known as “the queen of liqueurs,” but today it is relegated to obscurity. Indeed, the bottle that we have is one that had a ridiculously out-of-date price tag on it — presumably because it had been sitting undisturbed on the store shelf since the 80s — so that I was able to buy it for half its usual price.

In fairness to Jen’s skepticism, I’ll confess that when I first opened our bottle of Yellow Chartreuse, it smelled like a cleansing agent to me. But I’ve since grown a taste for it. The green stuff can also take some getting used to, but there’s a reason that Connor was so enthusiastic about it.


Jen March 4, 2011 at 10:18 pm

In my defense, all that Will said at the time of the tasting is that he likes green better. I didn’t have any of this pro-Chartreuse material to include in the blog!


Will March 5, 2011 at 6:09 am

Update: From the official website of the producers of Chartreuse:

“All of these liqueurs are made only by monks and are based on that already-ancient manuscript given the monks in 1605. The sale of the liqueurs allows the Chartreuse monks the funds necessary to survive in this commercial world and gives to them the ability to dedicate their lives to prayer and meditation.”

Their other liqueur is Chartreuse VEP, which is even more expensive, and which I’ve never seen for sale. I’m not sure about the propriety of using “all of these” to mean “these three”, but they’re monks so I guess I’ll let it go.


Matt March 5, 2011 at 10:51 pm

VEP. Hmm. Sounds important! My first guess was Very Expensive Product. Then I googled VEP acronyms and got Visual Evoked Potential. Its the electrical potential recorded from the visual nervous system of an animal following the presentation of a stilmulus (Wikipedia). Sensational! Its SO green it could only be called Chartreuse!


Marion April 8, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Reading this post, I also free associated – not with the taste of the liqueur but rather with the word chartreuse. It brought me back to when, at six, I first encountered that word.

My family had just moved into our first house – a small brown shingle house, out in the country, up a gravel road and on top of a windy hill. The house was unfinished. It consisted of one big room covered by a shed roof. The roof rose high enough to the east for a narrow second floor balcony, an open stair case to the balcony, and four small rooms under the balcony – a closet, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a furnace room. The balcony was open to the great room below and provided with a railing for safety. A dramatic floor to ceiling orange brick fireplace dominated the north wall; a large picture window overlooking the Rockies the west.

My parents immediately had to finish the house. My dad built narrow platform beds on the balcony for my sister, Linda, and me. My mom made drapes to close the balcony off and cover the picture window at night. To match the color of the fireplace wall, she chose a gorgeous floral print with large orange and chartreuse leaves against a dark forest green background. After finishing the drapes (no small project), she painted two walls chartreuse and the rest dark forest green. My dad covered the concrete floor with gray linoleum tiles. They bought a forest green hide-a-bed couch for sleeping.

With the soaring ceiling, the orange brick fireplace, the gorgeous view, the dramatic drapes and matching walls, our house soon became the talk of the neighborhood. People would come in, and, while shielding their eyes, ask, “What is that color?” No one it seemed had ever encountered the color chartreuse. Finally they would exclaim, “How can you live with it?”

But live with it we did – and happily. My parents held square dances and bridge parties in the great room. Linda and I would peak under the drapes to watch the festivities. The bathroom became a photographic darkroom; the yard a vegetable garden and play ground. The steep gravel road became a sledding hill in winter and a scary biking obstacle in summer. Nature seemed close with the huge sky, the beautiful mountains and the constant wind whipping up the sand and stinging your skin.

This house must have seemed luxurious to my parents when we moved in. They had left behind living in a small trailer and sharing restrooms, showers and laundry with other trailer camp residents. However, living without a master bedroom and only one closet finally got to my mom. The next house we moved into was a boring tract home. Never again would we live in an avant-garde house, but I missed the excitement and kept designing houses hoping my dad would get inspired.


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