Chartreuse liqueur is an intriguing and contradictory drink. It is the go-to ingredient of hipster bartenders putting a twist on classic cocktails.
Equally, it’s a medicinal elixir distilled with as 130 botanicals to a secret recipe known only to a handful of monks from a silent order. Even though the liqueur is actually produced in a modern facility some kilometres from the hugeCarthusian monastery, located in a remote valley of the Isère region of the Alps, even the distillery manager does not know for sure what he is distilling.
From the door of the monastery’s apothecary, bundles of leaves, flowers, barks etc are sent to the distillery with instructions; for example, how long a batch should be macerated. It has always been possible to walk around the outside of the impressive monastery, even climb above it and peer in, but never to go inside.
However, from this summer, the public can explore some of the mysteries of Chartreuse. Les Caves de la Chartreuse open in July on the site of the former distillery in Voiron (15 minutes by train from Grenoble). Production moved to a rural site when it was deemed dangerous to store thousands of barrels of flammable liquid in cellars stretching beneath half the town.
Visitors can now explore that space, learn the often-difficult history of the Carthusian Order, investigate the suspected ingredients and drink Chartreuse cocktails such as the last word (with gin, maraschino liqueur and lime juice).