"Your true colors are beautiful, like a rainbow…"

by Katie Pizzuto on April 17, 2009

in Chartreuse,cocktails

chartreuseI remember once having a conversation with a friend who was ranting about a co-worker who had sent him to get an item that she described as being chartreuse. So I pick up the phone and hear, “What the FUCK is chartreuse, Katie?” It was a tough one to answer because it could’ve been one of two things. “It’s either a slightly yellowish green or a slightly greenish yellow,” I answered. It was apparently enough to end the dilemma but not enough to end the questions. “How in hell did you actually know that? I was only calling because misery loves company—I wasn’t expecting a coherent answer.” The most likely answer would’ve been that I’m a graphic artist, and we artists are supposed to know our colors if nothing else (and often times, believe me, it’s really nothing else). Chartreuse happens to be the most visible color to the human eye.

But the truth of the matter was that I knew the answer because I am, as my family lovingly calls me, a boozehound though I personally prefer the term “spirits sage.” So I was honest: “Well the French have a liqueur called Chartreuse but there are two versions, yellow and green. It’s actually pretty interesting…apparently King Henri IV had sent the Carthusian monks an alchemical recipe for an “elixir of long life” that used something like 130 different aromatic herbs. The monks modified it and starting making it as “Green Chartreuse” but when they were expelled from France they stopped making it. Then, when they were finally allowed to return years later, they started making “Yellow Chartreuse” which is sweeter and milder. The color supposedly comes from the addition of…(click, dial tone)…uh, saffron.”

Lesson: not everyone is as passionate about, or as interested in, alcoholic history as you are.

There’s actually a really cool back story to Chartreuse and the monks, but I won’t bother anymore here—Google it, Wikipedia it, whatever. I was inspired to write about it after finding a bottle of Liquore Strega in a small wine shop recently. The two (and Galliano as well) taste rather similar and are equally powerful, which is why cocktail recipes usually call for really small amounts of them. Trying to describe its flavor is futile, but one of Chartreuse’s most evident aromas is that of anise, which normally makes me want to hurl, but when used in tiny doses and blended with other spirits, is inspiring. It’s kinda like the bassoon—a lot of it will make your head spin, but just one or two sprinkled into an orchestra adds a little something extra that’s not quite tangible. Here are a couple of great Chartreuse symphonies…err…I mean cocktails:

1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1/2 oz grapefruit juice
1/4 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup

Shake with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Bijou Cocktail
3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz Green Chartreuse
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir with a spoon in a mixing glass, strain into a cocktail glass, add a cherry, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top and serve.

Pearl of Puebla (served at PDT)
2 oz. mezcal
3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz freshly-squeezed lime juice
1/8 oz Ricard Pastis
1/8 oz agave syrup*
4 sprigs fresh oregano

Muddle lime juice, agave syrup and oregano in a mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients, along with ice, and shake. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

*To make the agave syrup, combine equal parts agave nectar and water.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dale Cruse April 17, 2009

Apparently Chartreuse is the only color named for a liqueur. I don’t care for it, but @binendswine is all about it.


2 Katie Pizzuto April 17, 2009

Yeah, Dale, I’m not nuts about it either, but I have found that in small amounts and mixed with other things (especially gin) it does play a role.


3 beth - the wine school April 22, 2009

I’m actually a huge fan of Chartreuse. A girlfriend introduced it years ago and I love sipping it neat (well, a little ice) on a warm spring/summer eve. The cocktails sound delish, Katie, and I shall forward along to Husband (who is a fabulous cocktail man).



4 Benito April 23, 2009


You beat me ever-so-slightly on the winebloggers talking about Chartreuse and the Bijou cocktail:




5 Katie Pizzuto April 23, 2009

Hey Benito! Glad to see you’re as big a gin fan as I am. Amazing how two people can be inspired to write about the same topic by two completely separate events!


6 Katie Pizzuto April 23, 2009

And Beth, you are more than welcome!!!


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