Historic (rec.food.historic) Discussing and discovering how food was made and prepared way back when--From ancient times down until (& possibly including or even going slightly beyond) the times when industrial revolution began to change our lives.

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Old 17-02-2004, 03:23 PM
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Default Chartreuse liqueur origins

When did the Chartreuse Monks develop their ''elixor for long
life''and what does it comprise of?

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Old 17-02-2004, 04:50 PM
Wayne Boatwright
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Default Chartreuse liqueur origins

(Janet) wrote in

When did the Chartreuse Monks develop their ''elixor for long
life''and what does it comprise of?

History of the Chartreuse Liqueurs

The Order of Chartreuse was more than 500 years old when, in
1605, at a Chartreuse monastery in Vauvert, a small suburb of
Paris, the monks there received a gift from the marshal of
artillery for King Henri IV. Francois Hannibal d' Estrees gave
them an already ancient manuscript titled "An Elixir of Long

In the opening years of the 17th century, only a few monks and
even fewer apothecaries understood the use of herbs and plants in
the treatment of illness. The manuscript's recipe was so complex
that only bits and pieces of it were understood and used at

By 1737, the manuscript was in the mother house of the order - La
Grande Chartreuse - in the mountains not far from Grenoble. Here an
exhaustive study of the manuscript was undertaken. The
monastery's apothecary, Frère Jerome Maubec, was in charge of the
study which finally succeeded in unraveling the complexities of the
Chartreuse Elixir was first made!

The distribution and sales of this new medicine were limited.
One of the monks of La Grande Chartreuse, Frere Charles, would
load his mule with small bottles and lead it to Grenoble and
other villages in the area.
Today, this "Elixir of Long Life" is still made only by
Chartreuse monks following that ancient recipe, and is called
Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse. This "liqueur of
health" is all natural plants, herbs and other botanicals
suspended in wine alcohol - 71 per cent alcohol by volume, 142

So tasty was this elixir that it was often used as a beverage
rather than a medicine. Recognizing this, the monks, in 1764,
adapted the elixir recipe to make a milder beverage which we know
today as "Green Chartreuse" liqueur - 55 per cent alcohol, 110
proof. The success of this liqueur was immediate and its fame was
no longer restricted to the area around La Grande Chartreuse.

The French Revolution erupted in 1789. Members of all religious
orders were ordered out of the country. The Chartreuse monks fled
in 1793 and, as a measure of prudence, made a copy of the
precious manuscript. One monk was allowed to remain in the
monastery and he was charged with preserving the copy. The
original was given to the charge of another monk

This monk, the one with the original manuscript, was arrested by
the Revolutionary forces and sent to prison in Bordeaux.
Fortunately, he was not searched and was able to secretly pass
the original manuscript to some unknown savior who smuggled it
back to the area of La Grande Chartreuse where he was able to get
into the hands of a Chartreuse monk who was hiding near the

This monk had no idea of how to use the manuscript and, being
certain that the Chartreuse Order had been effectively closed
down forever by the Revolution, sold the manuscript to a Monsieur
Liotard, a pharmacist in Grenoble.
Even this pharmacist could not understand the complex recipe
and, in1810, when the Emperor Napoleon ordered all secret
recipes of medicines to be sent to the Ministry of the Interior,
Monsieur Liotard duly followed the law and submitted the
manuscript. It was returned to him marked "Refused".

When Monsieur Liotard died, his heirs returned the manuscript to
the Chartreuse monks who had returned to their monastery in 1816.
In 1838, the Chartreuse distillers developed a sweeter and milder
form of that original recipe. Since it was no longer a vivid
green, this new liqueur was identified as, and is known today as,
"Yellow Chartreuse" (40 percent alcohol by volume, 80 proof).
In 1903, the French government nationalized the Chartreuse
distillery. The monks were expelled and fled to Spain, taking
with them the manuscript. They built a new distillery in
Tarragona where they continued to produce the now world-famous
liqueurs. They also built a distillery in Marseille which they
operated between 1921 and 1929. Liqueurs from each of these two
distilleries were identified as "Tarragone" Chartreuse.

Early in the years following the nationalization of the
distillery and monastery, the French government sold the
trademark "Chartreuse" to a group of liqueur distillers who
formed a company - "Compagnie Fermiere de la Grande Chartreuse".
The liqueur made by this company had no semblance of the liqueur
made from the manuscript. Compagnie Fermiere de la Grande
Chartreuse failed and went bankrupt in 1929. The company's stock
became valueless and the shares were bought up by friends of the
monks and were presented to the monks as a gift. Thus, the monks
regained possession of the Chartreuse trademark. They returned
to their distillery, which had been constructed in 1860 at
Fourvoirie, not far from the monastery, and resumed production of
the true Chartreuse liqueurs.

In 1935, an avalanche roared down the mountainside and destroyed
the Fourvoirie distillery. A new distillery was built in
Voiron where the railroad aided in the world-wide distribution
of the liqueurs. While the distillery is in Voiron, the
selection and mixing of the secret herbs, plants and other
botanicals used in producing the liqueurs is done in the
monastery by three monks.

Since 1970, a company named Chartreuse Diffusion has been
responsible for the bottling, packaging and marketing of the
liqueurs plus a few other products selected by the monks for
their high quality. Only three monks have been entrusted by the
Order with the secret of producing the liqueurs. Only these three
know the ingredients. Only these three know how these ingredients
are prepared for incorporation into the base of wine alcohol.
What little is known is that some 130 herbs, plants, roots,
leaves, and other natural bits of vegetation are soaked in
alcohol for an unknown length of time, then distilled and mixed
with distilled honey and sugar syrup before being put into large
oaken casks and placed into the world's longest liqueur cellar
for maturation. A small portion of the liqueur is selected for
special treatment. This bit of liqueur is aged for an extra
length of time and, after the chief distiller declares it ready
for bottling, it is packaged and marketed as V.E.P. Chartreuse
("Viellissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé"). This special
liqueur is packaged in 50 cl and 1 liter bottles which are
reproductions of the bottles used in 1840, Each bottle of V.E.P.
is individually numbered, is sealed with wax and is presented in
its own carefilly-fitted wooden box.

A long and colorful history...

- The gift of the manuscript in 1605
- The Vegetal Elixir is finally made in 1737
- Green Chartreuse is formulated in 1764
- Yellow Chartreuse is first made in 1838
- A "White" Chartreuse liqueur is produced and sold between 1860 and
1900 - During the years after 1904, when the Chartreuse trademark
belonged to Compagnie Fermiere de la Grande Chartreuse, the liqueur made
by the monks was called "la Tarragone". - The Green and the Yellow made
in Marseille between 1921 and 1929 were also called "la Tarragone." -
V.E.P. is introduced in 1963 - A special bottling commemorating the
1968 Winter Olympic Games - The 900th anniversary of the arrival of St.
Bruno (1984) is celebrated by the bottling of a special blend marked
"Liqueur du 9eme Centenaire" - In the year 2000, "L'Episcopale du 3eme
Millenaire" announced the arrival of Christianity's third millenium

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.

The Chartreuse Distilleries since 1737

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