In an almost 20-year career behind the bar,bartender Chris Hinds has seen many trends come and go. But ever since his first taste more than 20 years ago, one liqueur has captured his imagination–a liqueur with a history so fascinating you can bottle it.
With the resurgence of cocktail culture and mixology in the last 10 years, Chartreuse has reclaimed its place on the top shelf. Now head bartender at the famous Bar Clara in Melbourne, Chris’s love affair with both Green and Yellow Chartreuse began when he worked at a resort in the Whitsundays in 2003-2004. “I had been drinking other things which some people considered old fashioned, like Drambuie and Don Benedictine,” Chris recalled.
A fellow bartender recommended he try Chartreuse. “So I did,” says Chris. “I was like, wow, this is different – it has all these other things going on. It’s like something you haven’t tasted before. It intrigued me.” “The first thing I noticed was the higher ABV,” says Chris, “you’ve got that high sugar content, but then it still got that full ABV kick behind it. And then it was the flavour.” Green Chartreuse features a complex, delicious herbaceous flavour unlike anything else, with a powerful herbal, peppery nose and fresh palate settling into a warm, almost minty finish with pine sap and citrus fruit notes. With an ABV of 55 per cent, Green Chartreuse is the only liqueur in the world with a completely natural green colour. Its younger brother, Yellow Chartreuse, features an intense yellow colour, an ABV of 40 per cent, and a sweeter, mellower profile with complex, herbal flavours. A softer structure delivers a fresh and spicy nose with scents of turmeric, saffron, citrus, anise, and lingering floral notes.
In Chris’s own words: “For me, the first thing I get is honey; that sort of honey sweetness is a different sweetness to the Green. And then I also get white chocolate.” Tasting Chartreuse on the rocks is an experience in itself. Green and Yellow Chartreuse continue to age in the bottle, making each tasting a unique experience. If you hear someone ordering Chartreuse neat, the odds are they work in a restaurant or bar, or they had shots of it in their teens. As well as Chartreuse’s unique herbal taste, Chris was blown away by the brand’s unique history and tradition: “The secret recipe being learned by only two monks; The manuscript being passed around; the fact that it wasn’t just a sort of a marketing strategy, but actually older than marketing itself, so to speak.” The story begins in the Chartreuse (Carthusian) Mountains in France, the birthplace of the Carthusian Monks, a silent order. In 1605, the order was entrusted with a manuscript with a recipe for a mysterious ‘Elixir of Long Life’. The recipe called for over 130 medicinal herbs, barks and flowers, with complicated processes for distillation, infusion and maceration. It took the monks over a century to figure out how to make the first Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse. But when they did, they soon discovered the healing powers of their new concoction, using it to help the local peasants. “The monks were like, ‘look, we now have this herbal remedy for colds and whatnots. And it just grew from there.” In the chaos of the French Revolution, the manuscript was lost. After much searching, the monks recovered it. In 1840, they restarted production, creating the ‘Green Chartreuse’ and ‘Yellow Chartreuse’ we know today. “It started as just a local following,” says Chris, “and then it grew from that and grew bigger. And then bartenders found it and started sharing it. And then it’s just become its own phenomenon.” “It still has a kind of cult status.”
In the early 2000’s, Chris took a pilgrimage to the Chartreuse Distillery and its Chartreuse Ageing Cellar, the largest liqueur cellar in the world. The highlight was meeting Dom Benoît – one of two monks in each generation chosen to learn the recipe by heart, with each monk memorising half. Only Dom Benoît and his fellow monk Brother Jean-Jacques know which plants to macerate, which to blend and which to distil. To protect their ancient knowledge, the two monks can never travel together in the same car or plane.
Introducing (or re-introducing!) patrons to Chartreuse
According to Chris, many patrons remember Chartreuse from their youth as part of the infamous ‘ABC’ shot. Poor quality Absinthe and Bacardi 151 OP rum obliterated the complex flavours of the third, high-quality ingredient, Green Chartreuse. To acquaint first-time patrons with the true wonders of Green Chartreuse, Chris advises them to try some neat and “leave it in the mouth, let it sit and let the palate enjoy.” One of the best ways to discover Green Chartreuse flavour’s flavour and aromatic power is to serve it as a digestif – ideally chilled between 12° and 13° or on ice. “You can also start them off with yellow chartreuse, with what might be termed softer characteristics, and then let them work their way up to the green.” When re-introducing patrons to Chartreuse, Chris also offers it in a long drink, substituting the gin in a gin and soda, or the whisky in a whisky and soda, for Chartreuse. This dilution reveals unique and complex flavours. For Chris, as for many expert bartenders, Chartreuse is a secret weapon that makes any cocktail shine. At Bar Clara in Melbourne, Chris’s patrons enjoy a genuine human connection with friendly bartenders who actually like people. An intimate atmosphere features plush velvet seats, chilled beats and cocktails that are an adventure for the senses. In honour of his visit with Dom Benoît, Chris created the “Quiet Reflection”, a cocktail that patrons can enjoy at Bar Clara or make for themselves at home. “The name is a nod to the monks who invented Chartreuse,” says Chris. He imagines “people making the drink and sitting in their favourite chair, perhaps near a window with a view, and having their own Quiet Reflection.” To create the Quiet Reflection, Chris began with cocoa & vanilla syrup, “as it works well with the green Chartreuse!”. Last, Chris added sweet vermouth, “a product that most cocktail enthusiasts would have at home.” “The first ratios I tried worked perfectly”.
Try a Quiet Reflection now – and see for yourself.