Monk-eying Around With Chartreuse

27 Apr

Chartreuse. Inspired by a friend’s recent Facebook album of an adventure through the cellars of Chartreuse (jealous, Misty!!) and the fact that spring is now upon us, I can’t help but have a sweet adoration for it. I mean, what better spirit captures the floral, grassy bouquet of spring coming into bloom? Like most spirits, Green Chartreuse developed in the late 18th Century as a tonic, it’s purpose strictly medicinal. So strict, in fact, that the Carthusian monks who first increased it’s potency for intoxicating consumption were sent out of France. Of course, this fell on the heels of the French Revolution, during which all members of religious orders were sent packing. But I like to romanticize the notion of 19th century monks peddling white lightning. A few years upon their return to the Monasteries in 1816, Yellow Chartreuse was created, a lower-proof formula given its amber-blonde hue from saffron. But it was still largely considered more of a medicinal tonic, than something to take the edge off a long hard day of praying to your maker.

But in today’s context, with the turning of the seasons and the wrath of the seasonal allergy taking its toll on the masses, perhaps throwing a few ponies back of Chartreuse is a good excuse of a prescription. In fact, it’s just this rationale that led me to mix up a variation on Julie Reiner’s Remedy I call the Cure-All. (More on that later.)

Anyhow, despite all the hoop-la surrounding great classics these days, one comes to mind that involves the great Carthusian elixur: the Widow’s Kiss. I first experienced its magical potency while serving at a well-regarded cocktailian restaurant in Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood. It’s somewhat of an enigma as far as balanced drinks go. Consisting of a holy trinity of Benedictine, Apple Brandy, Yellow Chartreuse, it’s a seemingly overly aromatic concoction that one might gulp with a grimace by the spoonful to ward off a bad cold. But it’s delightfully drinkable. Refreshing, even. And contrary to most all-spirit recipes, it’s shaken not stirred. 007 would approve, I suppose. The result is a citrusy, floral (albeit, potent) libation that I would whole heartedly quaff deck side while watching the sun sink below a blush ocean side horizon.

I was relishing in the favors of this drink when I decided to create something equally as compelling with Strega. I thought it would play well with both Benedictine and Apple Brandy. Also, I was trying to find a damn use for Strega! The more I researched, I realized that both Strega and Yellow Chartreuse share commonalities. Both are made with a plethora of herbs and have a similar yellow color due to saffron. Strega, produced some time around 1860, is made with over 70 herbs including fennel and mint. After three test runs, and a willing guinea pig (thanks, Alex), here’s what I came up with. I give you the Witch’s Kiss #2:

1 oz. Laird’s Apple Brandy

1 oz. Rye

1/2 oz. Strega Liqueur

1/2 oz. Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura bitters

While I thought the name was brilliant–’strega’ is Italian for witch–alas, it was already taken by cocktail luminary Gary Regan. But hey, they say there is no original art.

Yellow Chartreuse wasn’t the only thing on my mind. Green Chartreuse, the original recipe which predates the Yellow by about three quarters of a century, involves over 130 herbal extracts and has a higher proof of 55 percent. Tending bar in Williamsburg, I was enlisted with the task of utilizing a chamomile tea syrup. My first thought jumped to Julie Reiner’s notorious Remedy concoction featured at Flatiron Lounge. Plymouth gin is infused with chamomile and mint teas, then mixed with honey, lemon, and egg white to produce a wonderful spring time tipple with a delicately sweet flavor and a creamy texture. While pondering its medicinal namesake, I thought what better liqueur to introduce into the mix then Green Chartreuse? Behold, the Cure-All:

1 1/2 oz. Plymouth Gin

1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse (VEP would do nicely here)

1/2 oz. chamomile syrup

1/4 oz. lime juice

1/4 oz. honey syrup

Egg whites

Another Chartreuse classic that deserves praise here is The Last Word. According to Cocktail Chronicles, the drink is credited by Ted Saucier in his 1951 book, Bottoms Up, to the Detroit Athletic Club and bartender by the name of Frank Fogarty some time around 1921, right smack in the throes of Prohibition. This drink entails three ingredients I hold dear: gin, maraschino, and of course our good friend Green Chartreuse. I thought of the name, the color and my creativity exclaimed absinthe! That being said, here’s my recipe for The Final Say:

1 oz. Bourbon (of the sweeter, vanilla variety such as Evan Williams Single Barrel. Woodford would be exceptional.)

3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse

1/2 oz. fresh lemon sours (2 parts lemon juice:1 part simple syrup)

1/2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino

1/4 oz. of your favorite Absinthe

I should note that Audrey Saunders features a rendition of the original Last Word at Pegu Club, replacing gin with rye. I’ll have to try a dose.

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