La Chartreuse: the best kept secret in the world
On the occasion of the re-edition of the book devoted to the Chartreuse, “Chatreuse: a guide for liqueur lovers“, we review the secret of this century-old recipe.
They are two to know the secret of the “elixir of long life”, hidden behind the high walls of the monastery of Grande Chartreuse, in Isère. Father Dom Benoit and Brother Jean-Jacques are the only ones to date who can count the 130 plants and spices that go into the composition of the famous liqueur. Today, it is more than four hundred years since in 1605 the Marshal of Estrée handed over a manuscript to the Carthusian Fathers of Paris. The latter, detailing the formula of this drink with its powerful and subtle bouquet, it is so. The secret, from century to century, is shared by a few initiates. And the manuscript, in the form of parchment, is kept in a chest to which only the superior of the abbey holds the key.
How do we distinguish the chosen ones? “The simplest way in the world.” explains Philip Boyer. He is in charge of communication for Chartreuse Diffusion, the company marketing the monastery’s production. “At some point, such and such a monk who shows an interest in working with plants is invited to a patient initiation. Often by helping on the spot, at the monastery, in the room where the herbs are kept.”
Age and experience are important here: Father Dom Benoit is 70 years old and Brother Jean-Jacques 60 years old. As Philip Boyer points out, “The chosen ones must demonstrate the stability of their spiritual vocation. A monk will only be able to devote himself to distillation if he is perfectly balanced and serene in his vocation as a Carthusian. It is therefore not a novice, nor even a very young monk who can be initiated.”
2 million litres aged each year
When they are not praying, Father Benoit and Brother Jean-Jacques spend most of their time between the storage room, the laboratory where they make dosages, and the distillery. They constantly watch over all the stages of the production process. And nothing would convince them to break their oath. Their silence is worth its weight in gold. “Imagine that the president of the liquor marketing company, Chartreuse Diffusion, blindly signs invoices for plants he knows nothing about! exclaims Philip Boyer. “He is certainly the only CEO buying raw materials he doesn’t know! Extraordinary, isn’t it? Beyond the anecdote, this underlines and testifies to the authenticity of this company which works for the life of a religious order. In an agreement perfectly ordered to a purpose greater than the strict commercial one.”
The recipe has evolved slightly over time and has taken time to settle down definitively. It was only in 1764 that the Carthusian monks obtained the first Chartreuse Verte, based on the initial recipe, reworked and refined. It has an alcohol content of 55°. In 1838, they produced a sweeter liqueur: the Yellow Chartreuse, which has a strength of 40°.
From now on, 1.5 million bottles come out of the Voiron distillery every year. Another 2 million litres age each year. The liqueur cellar is considered as the largest in the world. It can be visited and is well worth a visit. There is a spectacular 164-metre-long ageing cellar. A record, it seems. The Carthusian monks have not finished surprising us. N.W
Chartreuse Diffusion, 10, boulevard Edgar-Kofler, 38503 Voiron. Rens
04 76 05 81 77 / www.chartreuse.fr
Cellar visits: From 9am to 11.30am and from 2pm to 6.30pm. (Also open on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays).
Musée de la Grande-Chartreuse, La Correrie, 38380 Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse.
Contact: 04 76 88 60 45/ www.musee-grande-chartreuse.fr. From June to September, from 9.30 am to 6.30 pm.
Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.