(the truth about chartreuse)
“They say Christianity is in decay;
but no religion that invented green Chartreuse can ever die”
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.
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!