Chartreuse is in a league of its own—sweet and spicy, herbal and floral, and undeniably intoxicating. The centuries-old French liqueur, which is available in green and yellow variations, offers imbibers an unparalleled complexity in both flavor and history.
honey and saffron. Green is the more assertive of the two, weighing in at an impressive 55 percent ABV (110 proof). Yellow—a mere 40 percent ABV (80 proof)—is softer, sweeter, the milk chocolate to green’s dark.Distinguishing between the two types of Chartreuse is easy enough. There’s the O.G. green Chartreuse, which is, well, green. Its younger sibling yellow Chartreuse is, no surprise, yellow, due to the addition of
While it may be fairly simple to recognize the differences between yellow and green Chartreuse, when it comes to their commonalities, things get a bit more complicated.
Made exclusively by Carthusian monks at a distillery in Voiron (around 60 miles southeast of Lyon), Chartreuse is comprised of 130 plants and herbs—apparently 129 just wasn’t enough. “It’s one of a kind,” says Executive Director of Beverage and Corporate Mixologist at MGM Resorts International Craig Schoettler. “There’s not a replacement for it.”
That’s largely due to the fact the identity of 130 plants and herbs are a more highly guarded secret than what goes into Tabasco or the identity of who bit Beyoncé.
Two monks are tasked with supervising the production of Chartreuse. They’re the only people in the world who know its exact recipe which is derived from an ancient manuscript that was gifted to a Carthusian monastery in 1605.
Originally used for medicinal purposes—it was known as the “Elixir of Long Life”—Chartreuse soon became revered for its more spirited application. After some slight tweaks to the recipe—namely lowering the alcohol level—the classic Green version made its official debut in 1764 (yellow would follow 74 years later) and quickly earned a devoted following. Over the centuries, Chartreuse would become “one of the paradigm ingredients that is part of the bartenders’ toolkit,” according to Schoettler.
Though it’s not entirely clear what exactly Chartreuse is, its versatility is widely known. The liqueur can be can be enjoyed neat (ideally chilled) or used in a seemingly endless variety of cocktails. Chartreuse can take on a multitude of roles—green provides an other-worldly herbaceous punch to the gin-based Bijou; yellow provides a delightful floral accent to a margarita; either variety elevates a mug of hot chocolate to new heights.
“It can go with a lot,” says Schoettler. “It’s kind of a chameleon.”
Chartreuse Green Liqueur (price varies), on Drizly
If you're attracted to assertive flavors, try green Chartreuse.
Chartreuse Yellow Liqueur (price varies), on Drizly
If you're more mellow, go with yellow Chartreuse (or try both).
Related Video: How to Taste Spirits
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Header image courtesy of Chartreuse.