Excellent Elixir

Today is National Chartreuse Day! While the liquer is not a staple in the United States, it enjoys vast popularity in NOLA. Before NoDef’s staff departed to drown themselves in the green sea, we chatted with the guys from CureCo to learn a little about the libation and snag a few recipes. 


“The bars in New Orleans had it forever even before the craft cocktail trend took hold. Every dive bar had it also,” said CureCo’s Kirk Estopinal. “I’m not certain why, but it’s old and it’s French and we hold a special love for both of those things.”


The cocktail connoisseur explained that the creation of Chartreuse is steeped in legend. According to the mythology, the monks of the Grande Chartreuse Monastery were given a formula for a secret elixir to preserve life around 1605. “Basically because they were monks and not a corporation. So, they developed the formula for over a century before it was bottled and sold. Initially, they sold only ‘Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse’ which was taken medicinally daily.”


That recipe still remains a secret, but is widely believed to contain 130 different herbs. Estopinal explained that the tastes are local to the creators. “Basically, you’re drinking the essence of the forest around monastery. The old way of thinking is you find a plant with benefits and then use alcohol to preserve its essence forever,” he said.


Nick Detrich, his partner added, “If ever given the chance to try vintage Chartreuse, always jump at the opportunity. The recipe has never been written down and each monk makes it slightly differently than the last.”


The folklore holds that Chartreuse is prepared in three separate portions and then mixed. The monks reportedly only know how to make their part. What is certain is that the recipe remains a highly guarded secret over 400 years later.


If you don’t want to drink the elixir straight or louche it with water, there are plenty of cocktails employing the preternatural potable. 


Chartreuse Swizzle

This drink is commonly credited to Marcovaldo Dionysos in San Francisco. The following version is a bit different (no falernum, for  starters), but it has the same refreshing effect perfect for a Louisiana summer.

  • 0.5 Lime
  • 1 Pineapple
  • 1.5 Green Chartreuse

Combine in a collins glass. Add crushed ice. Six (that is swizzle!) Garnish with nutmeg.


The Last Word

Estopinal notes that The Last Word is one of the most popular craft cocktails out there. Although her drink was eventually created during Prohibition, the resurgence is a recent phenomena sparked when Seattle bartender Murray Stenson of Seattle’s Zig Zag Café found the recipe in an old book.

  • 0.75 Green Chartreuse
  • 0.75 Lime
  • 0.75 Maraschino
  • 0.75 Gin

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain and serve up.


Blackthorne Sour

This sour is a classic from Tom Bullock dating to 1917. You may not have sloe gin on hand, but if you need to cool down, this one’s a winner.

  • 1.5 Plymouth Sloe Gin
  • 0.5 Green Chartreuse 
  • 0.75 Lemon
  • 0.5 Simple

Shake, strain into a coupe. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

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