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Liqueur is derived from the Latin word ‘liquifacere’ which means “to dissolve or melt”. As a rule liqueurs are usually strong alcoholic drinks made from a neutral spirit and flavoured with many different products, herbs, spices, fruits, cream or many others and normally sweetened. These liqueurs can be drunk neat, diluted to make cocktails or even poured on desserts.
Historically liqueurs were derived centuries ago from herbal medicinal concoctions, elixirs, prepared by monks, some of the earliest records show that they were produced in Italy as early as the thirteenth century. Chartreuse is one of these early liqueurs made by monks from an ancient recipe and the only liqueur in the world with a completely natural green colour.
In 1605 Francois Hannibal d’Estrees (the Marshall of Artillery for King Henry IV) gave an ancient manuscript entitled ‘An Elixir of Long Life’ to the monks of a Chartreuse monastery in Veuvert. It wasn’t until 1703 that the complex recipe contained in the manuscript was fully unravelled and the first Chartreuse Elixir was made.
Nowadays the recipe of Green Chartreuse, as it is now known, is still faithful to the original manuscript of 130 plants, herbs, roots, leaves, barks, brandy, distilled honey and sugar syrup (with only subtle changes to allow the original Chartreuse Elixir to be adapted from 71% alcohol 142% proof to 55% alcohol and 110% proof) and such is the secrecy for the recipe and the 130 different herbs contained within it that at any one time only three monks know the secrets of the manuscript and to guard against its demise they never travel together. In 1833 a milder and sweeter form of the Chartreuse Elixir was made which is known as Yellow Chartreuse.