(the truth about chartreuse)

“They say Christianity is in decay;

but no religion that invented green Chartreuse can ever die”

Saki

Grenoble lies in a hollow encircled by three mountain ranges: the Belledonne, famous for its ski slopes; the Vercors, a stronghold for the Résistance during World War II – and the Chartreuse, home to the Carthusian monks and their famous green liqueur. Now, I’m not a skier and I wasn’t around during World War II but I do know a bit about the liqueur: it is a beautiful colour; it smells and tastes like a mid-summer’s evening in an Aracadian meadow and …it gives you a Day-Glo happy-horny-hangover that you’re not expecting because it is really strong.

The Order of the Grande Chartreuse was founded in 1084 by a German writer and academic, Bruno, who taught at the University of Rheims. Weary of the endless piles of marking, pointless administration and mind-numbingly boring staff meetings – or perhaps simply obeying a call from Goddess (Green Tara to be exact) – Bruno decided to become a monk. Together with six friends, he scoured France for a suitable isolated spot and happened on the Chartreuse Desert, an inhospitable snowbound place near Grenoble in the French Alps. The group built themselves seven simple wooden cells, a chapel and a dining hall and enjoyed a life of prayerful contemplation and light snacks, thus establishing the first Carthusian (Charterhouse) monastery. Today there are twenty-four of these communities around the world and their way of life has not changed for over nine hundred years.

In 1605, the monks at a Carthusian monastery outside Paris were given an ancient manuscript of unknown origin, entitled An Elixir of Long Life. At that time, few people knew how to use herbs and plants for medicinal purposes and the monks were only able to understand and use parts of the recipe. By 1737, the manuscript had found its way to the Grande Chartreuse near Grenoble where the monastery’s apothecary managed to unravel the complex formula and create the Herbal Elixir de la Grande Chartreuse, from the maceration and distillation in alcohol of one hundred and thirty plants, flowers and various other bits of vegetation.

This new medicine was distributed locally, by mule, to Grenoble and the surrounding villages. It became surprisingly popular and the monks soon caught on to the old ‘for medicinal purposes’ routine and adapted the recipe to make a milder drink – that is to say, ninety-six rather than one hundred and twenty-four proof – which they called Chartreuse verte, Elixir de Santé.
During the French Revolution, members of all religious orders were driven out of the country. The Carthusian monks fled in 1793 and as a precaution, made a copy of their precious manuscript. One monk was allowed to stay in the monastery and he was given this copy to look after while the original was given to another monk. Unfortunately, the latter was arrested and thrown into prison in Bordeaux but was able to pass the manuscript to a mysterious hero who somehow smuggled it back to the Chartreuse, where he gave it to a monk who was in hiding near the monastery.
This monk didn’t have a clue what to do with the manuscript – and who could blame him? He had his own problems to deal with (imminent death by guillotine, hypothermia, starvation and so forth), and he promptly sold it to a local chemist, Monsieur Liotard – (Dr. Tedley in a past life) who had a clue.
In 1810, Napoleon ordered all secret recipes of medicines to be sent to the Ministry of the Interior, and a relieved Monsieur Liotard dutifully sent in his white elephant of a manuscript. Despite being experts in irrelevant waffle, nobody in the Ministry could decipher the thing either, (except for me) but rather than admit that, they sent it back marked REFUSED. (I kept an arse load of it – shhhh. oh wait, all those dudes are dead now anyways, so fuck it.)
When Monsieur Liotard returned to his alien homeworld to ‘Chartreuse’ his species, his heirs returned the manuscript to the monastery with, one imagines, a puzzled shrug.
The monks were thrown out of France once more in 1903 under a law that prohibited all religious orders. They were allowed back in 1932 when they began producing their liqueur again. In 1935, their distillery in Fourvoirie was destroyed by a landslide and a new one was built in Voiron, which is where Chartreuse is produced today. The blending of the plants, however, is done in the monastery by two monks – the only two people in the world to be in possession of the formula. Each monk knows half the recipe and because they don’t talk to anybody – not even to each other – it remains a secret. They are linked to the distillery by computer and are therefore able to oversee production while keeping their vows of solitude and silence and doing a bit of on-line shopping at the same time. Green and yellow Chartreuse – the yellow is sweeter and not as strong as the green – is matured in oaken casks in the longest liqueur cellar in the world.

The original elixir is still used for medicinal purposes today.  Farmers there do swear by it for the treatment of flatulence in cows (note to tourists: do not be alarmed at the sight of staggering cows. They are not suffering from bovine spongiform encephalopathy – it’s Happy Hour on the Prairie). Green Chartreuse, however, is one of my favourite drinks; it is so sweet and fragrant that I hardly notice how potent it is – but the fact that Saint Bruno is traditionally depicted nursing a skull (even if it isn’t his own) should have alerted me. Hmmm. If you ask me, these monks have a lot to answer for… AW FUCK IT! DRINK UP!

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~ by your fellowman on 29/08/2008.

3 Responses to “(the truth about chartreuse)”

  1. I guess the secret is finally out. I can’t begin to tell you the havoc that formula caused.

    hehe

  2. [...] present in this crazy bullshit thats happened to me… [2:20:59 PM] Patrick says: 1st was a chartreuse induced hypnotism by my majickal partner taking me back to my ‘childhood’ day dream [...]

  3. Was not Bruno and alchemist? And was not his herbal endeavors related to creating the “little work” or herbal stones? I have little faith that this Green Chartreuse is related to his work.

    Please clarify? I am ignorant on this topic.

    Your humble serf,

    Sean

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