Gin or Lose, Liqueur and Booze, Now We Get to Drink Chartreuse

Actually, getting to know cocktails that have the ingredient of Green or Yellow Chartreuse means everyone wins.

Charteuse is a distinctly flavored liquor from a secret formulation of 130 herbs and spices.  Chartreuse comes in two forms: green or yellow; the first is 110 proof and the second is 80 proof. Most often paired with Gin, which contributes its own set of botanicals, cocktails using Chartreuse can also be found with base liquors of whiskey, brandy, and tequila or mescal.

At “Number Ten Eighth Symposium TalkTails: Gin or Lose, Liqueur and Booze, Now We Get to Drink Chartreuse,” which took place on Monday, April 8, 2019, we explored Chartreuse, a liqueur I am fond of, in some ways much as Flaubert would be fond of madeleine.  Chartreuse is one of a small number of liqueurs I remember from childhood, served in pony glasses by my father to his guests at holiday meals, unless, of course, it could be Benedictine, or Drambuie, or Grand Marnier, which were the other inventory, if memory serves me.  Of course, I got to taste these elixirs, not that I remember the tastes, except for Crème de Menthe, which sometimes we would be put on ice cream.

Charteuse is a wonderfully weird liqueur, with a wonderfully weird origin story, as follows: A manuscript titled “Elixer of Long Life” presented the original recipe for what is now known as Chartreuse, in 1605, to the Carthusian fathers at their monastery in Vauvert, France. Efforts at that time to distill and produce the “elixir” were problematic, as the recipe was complex and only part of the recipe was fully translated and so only part was followed. Early in the 18th Century, Brother Jerome Maubec tried to decipher the full recipe, but he died before he fully revealed the recipe, but fortunately, his knowledge and research passed to Brother Antoine, who, in 1737, finished translating and explicating the original manuscript, and then began producing the first batches.  Originally at 142 proof (71% alcohol by volume, or ABV), it is easy to think drinking the resulting substance would appear to be “curative,” but soon after distillation was begun, a milder variation of the original product at 55% alcohol was selected, and this is now what we know as “Green Chartreuse.” In 1838, and even milder version (with 40% alcohol) was developed, and this is known today as “Yellow Chartreuse.”

What is Liqueur?

The following (and edited) description of liqueur is taken from A Bar Above, which describes itself as “…a Website, Podcast and YouTube Channel dedicated to the craft of great cocktails and running a great bar program…the ultimate resource for bartenders, bar managers, cocktail designers, enthusiasts and everyone in between. We are dedicated to making a great bar education available to every bartender – regardless of experience, location or whether or not you have a twirly mustache.”

In the most over-simplified version, liqueurs are liquors which have had sugar and flavor added….  They are also typically (but not always) lower in alcohol content than liquors… [and] another common characteristic of liqueurs is their “syrupy” consistency – they are very often much thicker and more viscous than liquors.

Most liqueurs are made from distilled spirits which then have flavoring added either through maceration (chopping up flavored ingredients and then soaking them in liquid) or infusion (extracting chemical compounds or flavors from plant material in a solvent such as water, oil, or alcohol, by allowing the material to remain suspended in the solvent over time, a.k.a., steeping), and by adding sweetener or sugar.

And back to A Bar Above:

Liqueurs are a fairly common ingredient in cocktails, due to their ability to bring an amazing depth of flavor and complexity to a cocktail. They range from single-flavor liqueurs like Peppermint Schnapps to very complex like Green Chartreuse and give the cocktail creator a huge variety of flavors to play with—without having to keep a pantry full of fresh fruits, herbs and spices.

I’m a big fan of a couple of liqueurs, when it comes to cocktails.  Whenever I come across a drink recipe that uses Chartreuse or Benedictine, I’ll try it, and I’m not sorry yet, although there are some recipes I’ve tried and found wanting, or not bothered trying, usually because the recipe is self-evidently out of balance, at least to my taste. The two above-mentioned liqueurs, when used in the right balance, do indeed bring “an amazing depth of flavor and complexity” to bear, and the cocktails we’ll be tasting showcase liqueurs very well indeed.

Exceptional Cocktails with Chartreuse as an Ingredient

There are a good number of exceptional cocktails that include Chartreuse in the ingredient list, and each and every one of these is distinctive, but, properly balanced, distinctive in subtle and delicious ways.

The Bijou, a very old recipe (1890s), has become a darling of the cocktailrati. Composed of Gin, sweet vermouth, and Green Chartreuse, the cocktail was invented by Harry Johnson, “the father of professional bartending,” who called it Bijou (French for “jewel”) because the drink combines the colors of three jewels: Gin for diamond, sweet vermouth for ruby, and Chartreuse for emerald. Originally, Bijou used equal measures, but this is too sweet for contemporary tastes. After its long disappearance due to Prohibition, the Bijou was rediscovered in the 1980s, by “the King of Cocktails,” Dale DeGroff, who tripled the ratio of Gin to sweet vermouth and Chartreuse to soften the sweet taste profile.

If Bijou is a cocktail for those in the know, the Last Word is the last word on cocktail cool. The Last Word originally used equal amounts of Gin, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur, and lime juice, combined in a shaker with ice, strained into a cocktail glass. The cocktail has a pale greenish color, primarily due to the Chartreuse. Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Bar in New York City (a highly regarded Cocktail Revival bar) considers it one of her bar’s best cocktails and describes its taste as follows (from an article in The Seattle Times), “I love the sharp, pungent drinks, and this has a good bite. It’s a great palate cleanser. And it’s perfectly balanced: A little sour, a little sweet, a little pungent.”

According to Wikipedia:

The first publication in which the Last Word appeared was Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail book Bottoms Up!. Saucier states that the cocktail was first served around 30 years earlier at the Detroit Athletic Club and later introduced in New York by Frank Fogarty… [who was not a] bartender but one of the best-known vaudevillian monologists… of his time. Some assume that his occupation gave rise to the cocktail’s name. Since this dates the creation of the drink to the first years of the Prohibition (1919-1933), it is usually considered a prohibition era drink… research in the archives of the Detroit Athletic Club by John Frizell revealed… that the drink… [predated] the Prohibition era by a few years… [as it] was already offered on the club’s 1916 menu for a price of 35 cents making it the club’s most expensive cocktail at the time.

Here are the bottles you’ll need, plus lime juice, to make Last Word. This image from the web (the source now lost) shows a proof-heavy and very botanical Gin, Junipero, which would definitely influence the balance.

Like many once-popular cocktails, the Last Word fell into oblivion sometime after World War II but this drink was rediscovered by Murray Stenson in 2004, when he was on the outlook for a new cocktail for the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle, and soon after the drink became somewhat of cult hit in the Seattle and Portland areas and spread to cocktail bars in major cities worldwide.

The Last Word is likely an example of how Prohibition affected cocktails, as the cocktail at the Detroit Athletic Club during the prohibition era doubtlessly used bathtub gin, and even today the club is using its own recreation of “prohibition era bathtub gin” (vodka, spices, herbs, citrus) for it; bathtub gin tended to be rough and would benefit from the strong taste flavors of the other Last Word ingredients.  Some variations of the cocktail have sprung up, which usually replace the Gin with another base liquor and sometimes switch the limes for lemons.

The Last Word was the first Sour structure cocktail in the tasting, but there were two more following this structure, but using liquor other than Gin: Champs Elysées uses brandy (or in this case, a VSOP cognac) and Monte Cassino Cocktail uses Rye whiskey and adds a second liqueur, Benedictine.

Champs Elysees uses two great Gallic spirits (Cognac and Green Chartreuse) along with some lemon juice and bitters. This cocktail is the ne plus ultra of elegant cocktails, at least according to Serious Eats. The same article notes that “The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) lists a party-size recipe for this drink, which is good billing for its powers as a social lubricant. Fortunately, the recipe is easily scaled-down, [including one recipe] adapted by bartenders at Zig Zag Café in Seattle,” where the Last Word saw its first modern appearance.”

The rather new Monte Cassino cocktail, which has Rye whiskey as a base, adds equal measures of Benedictine liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse, and lemon juice, was the winning recipe of the 500th Anniversary Bénédictine competition, and, yes, Benedictine liqueur is that old, and no, not the bottle I’m using, but rather the recipe and manufacture start goes back half a millennium. And who won the competition? Damon Dyer of Flatiron Lounge, yet another stellar Cocktail Revival place.

Loungerrati-Lounging, Life, & Libations, a blog by Fred Ceraso, carried a short post about this drink:

To appreciate the cocktail’s building blocks, one must understand history. Mr. Dyer chose the ingredients and the name based upon the story of the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. The monastery located southeast of Rome was founded by St Benedict of Nursia in 529 AD. Yes – the Saint Benedict who went on to establish the eponymous order of monks. The same Order that produces DOM (Deo Optimo Maximo) Benedictine liqueur.

The monastery served as the headquarters of the Order of Saint Benedict and history has not been kind to the structure or its inhabitants.  It was sacked and destroyed several times during the Middle Ages by marauding invaders, such as the Lombards and the Saracans. The monks rebuilt it again and again. In 1321, an earthquake seriously damaged the structure, but still the monks rebuilt. The coupe de grace seemed to occur during the Second World War when the abbey was destroyed by the Allied bombers in 1944. However, the Monks’ faith and determination to rebuild remained unwavering.

The Tasting

I originally thought to start this tasting with Alaska, which highlights Chartreuse perfectly, since this cocktail is, in effect, a Martini that uses Chartreuse instead of dry vermouth. Unfortunately, five cocktails in the tasting would have required that each be served in very modest volume, and perhaps too modest to allow for sufficient appreciation.  And, hey, the instructions for Alaska are included below, so you can always try this cocktail on your own. Like the Martini, the amount of the secondary ingredient (in this case, Chartreuse) will vary greatly for taste, just as some prefer a “dry” Martini and so use only a small volume of dry vermouth.

Bijou

  • 1½ oz. Gin
  • ¾ oz. Green Chartreuse
  • ¾ oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with cherry and a lemon twist. This is a delightful cocktail that blends the flavors brilliantly, although some may prefer sweeter or drier, either of which easily achieved by altering ratios.  The version here falls between the original version’s equal parts and Dale DeGroff’s 3:1:1 contemporary take. See also, below, Biter and Tailspin, which are similar to Bijou, but different enough to be worth exploring.

Last Word

  • 1½ oz. Gin
  • ¾ oz. Maraschino liqueur
  • ¾ oz. Green Chartreuse liqueur
  • ¾ oz. lime juice

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with Maraschino cherry. This is a terrific cocktail, with vary unusual tones, due to the Chartreuse.  The original recipe, like the Bijou, called for equal measures, but this will come across as too sweet for modern tastes. Using more Gin pushes the two liqueurs into the background, but still brilliant in taste. (Source: Bottom’s Up by Ted Saucier 1951)

Champs Elysées

  • 1½ oz. Brandy
  • ¾ oz. Chartreuse
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 2 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist. This is a very nicely balanced cocktail that effectively brings the unusual combination of Brandy and Chartreuse together. (Source: Savoy Cocktail Book, by Harry Craddock, 1930)

The Monte Cassino Cocktail

  • ¾ oz. Rittenhouse Rye
  • ¾ oz. Bénédictine
  • ¾ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
  • ¾ oz. Fresh lemon juice

Shake all the ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon twist. This is a well balanced cocktail that is refreshing and yet offers a subtle earthy flavor.  The equal parts should work well for many drinkers, as the sweetness brought by the liqueurs are balanced by the tartness of fresh lemon juice.

Other Chartreuse Cocktails of Interest

Alaska

  • 2 oz. Bombay Gin
  • ¾ oz. Green Chartreuse
  • 1 dash orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with lemon twist. By the time one gets around to measuring out a “splash of Chartreuse, as many recipes call for, you might as well simply measure using a barspoon (a heavy quarter ounce) or use a half-ounce jigger; I think the fuller measure of Chartreuse makes the drink better balanced. This cocktail is a good example of the worthy undertaking of experimenting on the dryness or sweetness preferred. This beautiful cocktail is sometimes called “Emerald Martini” when Green Chartreuse is used. The Alaska is a great cocktail for appreciating Chartreuse, and a perfect opportunity to explore Yellow versus Green, and to savor the differences found in the use of a London Dry Gin and an Old Tom Gin. Alaska, which is thought of as a Martini variant, and recipes using either Green or Yellow Chartreuse show up early in the 20th Century.  The name’s origin is another matter, even as some suggest that the territory of Alaska was a big topic of conversation at that time, while others speculate that the drink, when using Yellow Chartreuse, has a golden tone, and so the drink reflects the Alaskan gold rush.

Biter

  • 1½ oz. Gin
  • ¾ oz. lemon juice
  • ¼ oz. simple syrup
  • ¾ oz. Chartreuse
  • 1 dash absinthe

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with lemon twist. Similar to the Bijou in the use of Chartreuse liqueur, but with the sweet of the liqueur balanced by the lemon juice, with the simple syrup smoothing the lemon juice’s bite, while the dash of absinthe further expands the body of this drink. Try two pumps of absinthe rinse in empty glass, then one pump over the finished drink.

San Martin

  • 1½ oz. Gin
  • 1½ oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • Splash (heavy) Yellow Chartreuse or (light) Green Chartreuse

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with lemon peel. If substituting Green Chartreuse, use less (i.e., normal splash). San Martin is a variant of the Martinez, and is named after Jose de San Martin who liberated Argentina, Chile, and Peru from the Spanish. (Source: Cocktails: How to Mix Them, by Robert Vermeire, 1922). Like the Martinez (recipe follows directly), this cocktail offers the chance to try different styles of Gin.

Martinez

  • 1 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
  • 2 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 2 dashes maraschino liqueur

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with lemon twist.  According to Robert Hess (Drinkboy.com), “Many may refer to the Martinez as being simply an early version of the Martini, to the point of referring to the origins of the Martini as being those of the Martinez. I instead feel that both the Martinez and the Manhattan were precursors to the Martini, each being a unique cocktail unto itself.” Feel free to try different ratios, especially if you are afraid of the dominance of the sweet vermouth, but as is, Martinez showcases an excellent vermouth such as Carpano Antica perfectly.

Tailspin

  • 1½ oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin (or BMD Ethereal Gin, Junipero Gin, or other botanical-forward Gin)
  • ¾ oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • ¾ oz. Green Chartreuse
  • 1 dash Campari

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist and cherry. This is a very interesting and full-flavored cocktail very similar to the Bijou, but the Campari makes a big difference.

All Betts Are Off Cocktail

  • 1½ oz Sombra Mezcal (or other brand)
  • ¾ oz. Dolin blanc vermouth
  • ¾ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
  • 2 dashes Grapefruit bitters

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze a grapefruit twist over the drink and use as a garnish. This drink is one of Gary Regan’s 101 Best New Cocktails (ArdentSpirits.com). Betts is the last name of one of the founders of Sombra Distillery, but try different mescals and tequila, looking for smoky characteristics (consider anejo tequila). If one adds grapefruit juice and lime juice, this will be similar to a Paloma, but the Chartreuse will shift the flavor towards greater complexity, and replacing agave syrup with Chartreuse will make for more sour balance.

Widow’s Kiss

  • 2 oz. Calvados (French Brandy from apples)
  • 1 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 oz. Benedictine
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. The Widow’s Kiss is a fairly old cocktail, dating back to around 1895. This was during a time when a “new” age of cocktails was coming into existence, expanding beyond its previously held definition of “spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters,” experimenting with the use of vermouth (and hence the Martini and Manhattan), as well as various herbal liqueurs which would have previously been simply sipped neat. Like the Monte Cassino cocktail, The Window’s Kiss doubles up on its “elixir” content by using both Chartreuse and Benedictine, but Widow’s kiss is not a sour structure, and uses delicious Cavaldos, a liquor not often appearing in cocktails. If you can only find green Chartreuse and not yellow, you can substitute it if you cut back on it by about a third.

 

One Comment on “Gin or Lose, Liqueur and Booze, Now We Get to Drink Chartreuse”

Leave a Reply to Tom Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *