May 16, or 1605 if you think of your calendar like most of the world does with day-before-month, has long been declared World Chartreuse Day. So we’ll use Chartreuse today in the Brandy Fix cocktail.
Origin of Chartreuse
In 1605 that the monks at a Chartreuse monastery in Vauvert, a suburb of Paris, received a gift from Francois Hannibal d’ Estrees. That gift was an already ancient alchemical manuscript containing the recipe for an “elixir of long life.” This recipe made its way to the Grande Chartreuse monastery near Grenoble, whereupon diligent monks worked tirelessly to decipher it all. This took a while, as it presumably contains cryptic notations of about 130 different herbs, plants and flowers to be picked at midnight on Tuesdays during a waning moon and so on. This is serious stuff.
The Elixir Vegetal de la Grand Chartreuse was produced comparatively rapidly as a medicine (remember, it IS the elixir of long life). In 1737 Brother Gerome Maubec (probably realizing the stuff tasted pretty good) enhanced that original recipe. In 1764 the monks started producing what is now known as Green Chartreuse. These monks work for quality rather than speed.
Expelled from France
The history of Chartreuse has its hiccups. The monks were expelled from France in 1793 and ceased making the booze, but were back in-country and at work in 1816. France expelled them again in 1903 and seized their property. This time the boys took the recipe to their refuge in Tarragona, Catalonia. There they made the hooch with an additional label added translating to “liquor manufactured in Tarragona by the Carthusian Fathers.” At the same time a French corporation took possession of the Chartreuse assets. They didn’t have the monks’ recipe but were producing what they called Chartreuse.
Lesson: don’t mess with monks. They prevented the export of such swill through their wisdom of registering trademarks widely and keeping the recipe secret. When that French company went bankrupt a group of businessmen stepped in. They bought the company cheap and gifted it to the monks in Tarragona. The monks regained possession of the distillery and were able to go back with the tacit approval of the French Government. To this day the recipe is a closely held secret, with the herbal mixture prepared at the monastery by the only two monks who know the formula.
That secrecy is why the Elixir Vegetal de la Grand Chartreuse is not officially available in the US. It’s considered a medicinal tonic, not a spirit. To import it the monks would have to divulge the formula to the FDA. That’s a non-starter. You are welcome to carry a bottle back from France yourself, where you’ll find it at drugstores rather than liquor stores. Note that the small glass bottle in its milled wood case looks like a hand grenade on an x-ray machine. Be prepared to have your bags searched at every security checkpoint. Don’t ask us how we know.
The Brandy Fix
All good, but now we need a drink. This year we’ll reach back further in time than we did last year for the Diamondback. We believe the first published recipe utilizing Chartreuse is the Brandy Fix. It was first published in the 1888 edition of Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender Manual. Harry Johnson, besides being a great prank call name, was one of the premiere bartenders of his day. He was second only to Jerry Thomas, perhaps only because Thomas published his book first.
Today we also present a bonus round: a bartender’s handshake known as Crunk like a Monk. You remember bartender’s handshakes from Enzo Ferrari’s birthday in February, and the Ferrari yes? If not go back to brush up. Crunk like a Monk is definitely a Los Angeles creation that emerged six or seven years ago, but nobody can remember who created it. They were probably all drinking.
So here’s how to mix and enjoy the Brandy Fix. If you prefer something a bit more Chartreuse forward we would suggest the Diamondback.
- Shake with ice, and strain into glass filled with crushed ice.
- Back in the day the drink likely would have been decorated with a crown of fruit that would have made Carmen Miranda look and say, “Dude, a bit much,” but if you don’t have a cornucopia of berries and other fruits laying around a simple cherry or pineapple leaf will suffice.