Travel, Food & Drink

The New Nightcap: Why Chartreuse Liqueur is the Perfect After-Dinner Drink

Chris Munro, Head of Christies’ Wine Department, on the sweet, spicy drink you should taste tonight—plus cocktail recipes to try

The dishes have been cleared, the last drop of red has been drunk, and you’re about to relax with an after-dinner drink. What should you sip on? Traditionally, this would be a glass of port, maybe Madeira, or a whiskey. But how about Chartreuse liqueur?

With a history dating back to 1605, the first recipe for this digestif appears in a manuscript written by French soldier François Annibal d’Estrées and was given to the Carthusian monks. If this all sounds a bit Game of Thrones, it gets even more mysterious. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret—a mixture of distilled alcohol and 130 herbs, known only to the Père and Frère de Chartreux.

Carthusian Monks
The first recipe for the drink was given to the Carthusian monks of the Chartreuse monastery in Vauvert, a small suburb of Paris, in 1605. Image: Alamy

It’s believed that not all the herbs make it into the final mix as around 20 are burnt, thus disguising the exact make-up of the recipe. Its main known components are cinnamon, mace, peppermint, and thyme. There are also believed to be a number of Chinese herbs in the recipe.

Chartreuse comes in a few different types, the main two being green and yellow—the green has the higher alcohol content at around 55 percent. The extremely rare blanche or white Chartreuse is no longer produced, but sometimes appears at auction.

Three bottles of Chartreuse Jaune
A single bottle of Chartreuse jaune, period 1869–78, sold for CHF 8,812/$8,970 at Christie’s Finest and Rarest Wines sale in Geneva in 2016.

One of only a few liqueurs that can age in the bottle, it was produced in France for centuries, and there was a time it was also made in Spain. Older bottlings appear at Christie’s auctions and are very collectible. These are mainly sold in Europe, where they have been kept for many years.

But what does it taste like? Very sweet, slightly medicinal, and spicy. A nightcap from the 17th century—perfect.

2 Chartreuse Cocktails to Try Tonight

If you’d prefer to try this liqueur in a cocktail before sipping it neat, you’re in luck: Chartreuse is coveted by mixologists for its sweet, herbacious flavour. It pairs well with gin—although brandy, whiskey, and rum make for a great combination too—and offers all the the allure of a beautiful green cocktail, without having to rely on Midori or green apple schnapps.

Chartreuse Martini

Apple martini
A Chartreuse martini has wonderful herbal qualities and makes the most of the botanicals contained in gin and dry vermouth. For an added element of freshness, garnish yours with green apple. Image: Getty Images

Start simply, by adding Chartreuse to your classic gin martini. To mix, simply gather 1½ ounces (45 ml) gin, ½ ounce (15 ml) green Chartreuse, and ½ ounce (15 ml) dry vermouth; shake well in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and enjoy.

The Last Word

Green Chartreuese Last Word Cocktail
The Last Word is a dry, deliciously tangy drink, with accents of botanicals and a fabulous herbal array. Image: Alamy

For a slightly more adventurous take on a classic martini, but one that’s equally easy to create, opt for a Last Word cocktail. Pour equal parts gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice into a shaker filled with ice, shake well, strain into the glass of your choice, and serve.

Banner image: Getty Images