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10 bd Edgar-Kofler,
Chartreuse’s recipe is far more closely guarded than the Coca Cola formula – not surprisingly, when you consider it originated as an elixir of life (or at least youth). In the 16th century many alchemists were engaged in the search for an elixir – and in 1605 Marshall d’Estrees, a friend of King Henry IV of France, gave a recipe to the Carthusian monks. The manuscript was hand-written and signed by Estrees, so it is assumed he was the original creator of the Elixir, a fact apparently supported by his living to the age of 97. But the recipe lay untouched in a monastery near Paris for 132 years before it was eventually taken to the Monastery of Grand Chartreuse where Brother Jerôme Maubec, a master apothecary, worked to perfect the elixir.
Brother Jerôme passed on the secrets to Brother Antoine while on his deathbed. It was Brother Antoine who in 1764 completed the task of combining 130 different herbs from around the world with health giving and aromatic properties to create the ‘Herbal Elixir Of The Grande Chartreuse’ (which is still made to the original recipe today). The monks lived on the proceeds of making and selling the elixir which quickly gained a reputation for its flavour and curing properties, as did ‘Green Chartreuse’ a ‘health liqueur’ also developed by Brother Antoine from the same recipe.
The French Revolution dispersed the monks and for a several decades interrupted the production of Chartreuse. However the manuscript and monks returned to the monastery and sometime around 1840 the formula was further adapted by Brother Bruno Jacquet to produce another liqueur, yellow in colour and with a sweeter, lighter taste. In 1869 the trademark was officially registered and the signature of L. Garnier, the monk responsible, still appears on all Chartreuse labels.
Further troubles for the monks lay ahead. The worldwide reputation of Chartreuse liqueurs and the profits raised by the monks attracted the attention of the French government, to the degree that in 1904 both the monastery and the distillery were nationalised. The monks refused to give up their distilling secrets and fled to Tarragona in Spain where they built a new distillery to continue the production of Chartreuse.
While the monks were exiled from France, other distillers worked at the monastery with government support to produce a copy of the famous liqueur. Unable to discover the recipe or the production secrets, the copy never came close to genuine Chartreuse. (Bottles can be identified by a deliberate error by the printer on the label.) Due to lack of sales the company producing this counterfeit liqueur went bankrupt in 1929. When the monks returned to France and the Grande Chartreuse they resumed production at a distillery in the nearby town of Voiron where Chartreuse is still made today.