Kurt’s Chartreuse Challenge

I know I’ve spent a great amount of real estate here on amari…and why not? The flavors that we get to experience through established and homemade amaro is what has created such a stir and enthusiasm for herbal flavors and DIY liqueurs. We’re all artisans and explorers in the great herbal liqueur adventure. Keeping with the spirit of adventure, I would like to move on to something different, and yet, perhaps not. If we’re talking “herbal”, then we must eventually cross paths with a mysterious liqueur produced in France…Chartreuse.

Ah, Chartreuse! That odd green liqueur surrounded by such secrecy and mystique. In case you don’t know, Chartreuse is a (naturally green) liqueur produced by the Carthusian Monks in the Grenoble region of France. It has been produced (in various locations) from a secret recipe handed down since the early 1700’s. Part of the mystique surrounding Chartreuse stems from its secret recipe of 130 herbs macerated in alcohol which is reportedly known only by two (or is it three?) monks at any one time. It’s reported to be the only liqueur with a green color that results entirely from its natural ingredients, i.e., no dyes. It was considered an herbal remedy at one time (though I don’t recall which maladies it was supposed to alleviate – digestion?). It is also a somewhat pricey liqueur. If you can pick up a 750ml bottle for less than $60, snag it!

Chartreuse is a really unique liqueur. It is very herbal, very vegetal. At first taste, Chartreuse tastes very much like its color – green. At my first experience, I couldn’t tell if I was tasting cut grass, pine needles or lemon verbena. (Actually, none of those individual flavors were apparent by themselves because my first taste occurred long before I had an inquisitive palate). In addition to its herbal bonafides, Chartreuse is incredibly intense. It’s 110 proof to start! Take a half jigger of Chartreuse and add it to two jiggers of gin (one of my favorite ways of enjoying it – the Green Martini), and your drink still tastes very much like Chartreuse. It helps an expensive bottle of Chartreuse last a reasonable amount of time. The other classic Chartreuse cocktail is the Bijou: 1 part Chartreuse, 1 part Gin, 1 part sweet vermouth. What’s interesting about either one of these is that the characteristic Chartreuse flavor refuses to be dominated. It is very much “present and accounted for”!

In Seattle, Chartreuse is not only expensive, but it is also a rare on-the-shelf bottle at liquor and grocery stores (or the few non-superstore liquor stores that still exist here). Consequently, for this Chartreuse enthusiast, there are lots of dry spells where I have to do without.

Being the DIY kind-of-guy, I began thinking about creating my own version of Chartreuse. I scoured the internet looking for recipes that might give me some idea of what to use, but they are not only very few and far between, some of them have very questionable ingredients – both in taste and in safety. The safest recipe I found was in an old Treatise on the Distillation of Alcohol book from the 1800s found in Google books, but it contained a few ingredients that weren’t very easily found (like Balm of Gilead, or genepi, a variety of wormwood). Alas, even it also contained arnica flowers which aren’t really considered safe for consumption.

I wasn’t easily dissuaded, however. I forged on, determined to create a copy of Chartreuse, and I am happy to report that I am 70% of the way there! What’s interesting is that the recipe I’ve discovered came about because I focused on ingredients that would keep the result green. The big problem is that my recipe isn’t entirely reproducible in its proportions.

That’s where my challenge comes in. What follows is the best list of ingredients and their approximate amounts that I can devise without the testing and assistance of any of you readers who would like to contribute your lab time. If you enjoy Chartreuse as much as I do and want to figure out the definitive recipe for reproducing it (as close as possible), let’s put our heads and palates together. I truly believe it can be done, because I am so close. I’ve enjoyed a green Martini made with my DIY Chartreuse, and it is SO close! If I can get other experienced palates to contribute to or modify my basic recipe, I think we could finally have THE DIY recipe that would provide us enthusiasts the Holy Grail, so to speak. Here it is…

Kurt’s DIY Chartreuse Recipe – made with tinctures.

Part 1 – create the essence using 75% ABV tinctures.

1. 80 ml of Wormwood tincture (note: if you can create a tincture using fresh wormwood leaves instead of dried wormwood – you’ll go a long way towards matching the original Chartreuse flavor, but it isn’t a make-or-break situation. Dried wormwood will also work.
2. 40 ml of Angelica tincture
3. 2ml peppermint tincture
4. 3ml lemon verbena tincture
5. 2ml juniper tincture
6. 10ml sage tincture
7. 8ml rosemary tincture
8. 8ml saffron tincture
9. 0.5ml clove tincture (substitute allspice for a more faithful rendition)
10. 3ml lemon peel tincture
11. 4ml star anise or fennel seed tincture
12. 4ml mace tincture
13. 1ml cinnamon tincture
14. 1ml thyme tincture

Part II – Oak chips (the oak barrel)

1. Prepare the oak solution per the Valencia Orange recipe. Add 20ml of this mixture to the Chartreuse essence.

Applying oak barreling or aging may seem out of step or unnecessary, but trust me – it makes a huge difference if you’re wanting that je ne sais quois of Chartreuse!

Part III

1. Honey or Simple Syrup – add enough honey to make the resulting mixture moderately sweet
2. distilled water – add 1/2 the amount of distilled water as sweetener.

Part IV
Adjust to taste.  Extend as desired.  Create a base spirit by diluting 1/2 liter of Everclear or a similar neutral spirit with water and sweetener (preferably honey) to around 50-55% ABV for authenticity, or use a nice neutral vodka at 40%. Bear in mind that vodka will be further diluted by the addition of honey or simple syrup.  Carefully add this to your Chartreuse essence, 1/2 cup (4 oz) at a time.  Once the flavor begins to weaken, STOP! Or don’t stop – it’s up to you.

Get this right! If you have the opportunity to taste this alongside real Chartreuse, use that opportunity to add ingredients (or new proportions) that you think will match those flavors in Chartreuse.

Part V
What is NOT IN Chartreuse (according to my palate)!

1. Orange Peel
2. Neroli Oil (in fact, do not use any essential oils – only tinctures)
3. Vanilla – this is disappointing because vanilla fixes EVERYTHING!
4. Food coloring – okay, this isn’t a big deal. If you want to add a drop of green, I won’t tell!

And that’s it. If anyone wants to start here (or revise my recipe completely), please do so and check back. If we can arrive at this destination, it will be well worth it!

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