Chartreuse Liqueur is made by monks. The Carthusian Monks (Moines Chartreux, in French), who were founded in 1084 by St. Bruno, support themselves by the manufacture of this sought-after liqueur. They began distilling it in 1737, mixing it according to a manuscript handed to them in 1605 by Francois Hannibal d’Estrees, marshal of the king’s artillery. The formula, called “Elixir of Long Life,” was written in esoteric Latin and detailed a highly complex process. It took Brother Jerome Maubec and Brother Antoine, the monastery apothecaries, the third part of a century to unravel the recipe and blend the first batch of the green beverage, complete with its 130 herbs and flowers in a seventy-one percent wine alcohol base. In 1764, a milder form of the original recipe was developed (with only fifty-five percent alcohol). This milder form is known as “Green Chartreuse.” A yet mellower and sweeter form (forty percent), known as “Yellow Chartruese” was developed in 1838. The “Green Chartreuse” and the original formula are both the same color. (The color “chartreuse” gets its name from the liqueur, not the other way around.) The original is still available under the name “Herbal Elixir of La Grande Chartreuse.”
The monks became distillers as a matter of supporting themselves. In the early years, their livelihood came from selling the tall, straight pine trees of the Chartreuse Mountain region in which they lived. The trees made good ship’s masts. But when the pines were all cut down, some other means of support was needed. On a recreational walk, the monks found that the area was rich in iron ore. Using local resources, including the forest’s wood (processed into charcoal) and hydraulic power from local mountain streams, they began iron production. They became real artisans in metal and are considered the initiators of modern metallurgy.
When circumstances forced them out of iron and steel production, the herbal elixir, which now bears their name, became their means of support.
Today there are only three monks, trained by their predecessors, who know the recipe. They are the only ones who are allowed to actually make the liqueur.
The company which distributes the beverage, Chartreuse Diffusion, says this on its website: “According to The New York Times, the chairman of Chartreuse is the only CEO in the world who does not know the ingredients nor manufacturing process of his company’s product, and has no control over the work force.”
Efforts by the Masonic French government to duplicate the beverage and to “crack the code” of the mysterious Latin manuscript have failed utterly.
Among their other unique accomplishments, the Carthusians boast the largest liqueur cellar in the world in their monastery in the French Alps, and the only liqueur which is naturally green. The Chartreux Cat is also named after the monks, one of whom is believed to have brought the breed to Europe from the Middle East during the Crusades.
The Carthusian Order is the strictest in the Church. The monks pray constantly, either in their cells alone, or in common in the chapel, where they chant the Divine Office and Mass. They do not eat meat, and they pass the greater part of their week in total silence.