Monday, 16 November 2015
Chartreuse with the Ghosts of the Monks of Cleeve
Travelling through Somerset towns constructed from Blue Lias, I made my way to the Cistercian abbey of Cleeve, Washford; an appropriate setting to stock up on Chartreuse. Good for English Heritage to have Chartreuse available at quiet and secluded Cleeve. And poor Cleeve. We can admire Henry the Eighth for his enjoyment of sport and the good things in life, but feel a little miffed at the destruction of art and architecture he wrought through the dissolution of the monasteries. Cleeve was closed by Henry, the church was eventually demolished and the abbey buildings converted into a country house. Still, it's a beautiful spot for lovers of English history.
The History of Chartreuse
Chartreuse is a liqueur made by Carthusian monks — do the Cistercians and the Carthusians get on? — since 1737, which is not that long in monastic terms, I suppose. Anyway, we should be grateful that this enchanting green (or yellow) inebriant is still being produced. Smashing things come out of monasteries. Remember the Caldey Island Lavender Water?
Green Chartreuse is concocted from 130 herbs, plants and flowers. If you like a herbal taste, this is a drink for you. It makes for an excellent digestif or cocktail ingredient and is also good when added to hot chocolate for an après-ski pick-me-up. Green Chartreuse is a strong 55% by volume. The recipe has been around since 1605 when the drink was reputed to be capable of prolonging life. The Green Chartreuse we drink now was refined in 1764.
The recipe very nearly disappeared. The monks were expelled on a couple of occasions (1793 and 1903) from their Grand Chartreuse monastery in the Chartreuse mountains of France. But the recipe survived and when the monks were able to return to their home they resumed production to support their order. The herbal mixture is only ever known to and prepared by two monks.
English Heritage also stock the even stronger (69%) Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse tonic at Cleeve, which comes in a very nice little medical-looking bottle (below). This version certainly does look as if it could prolong life.
Anthony Blanche on Chartreuse
Anthony Blanche is a keen fan of Chartreuse (and Brandy Alexander). From Brideshead Revisited:
"Real G-g-green Chartreuse, made before the expulsion of the monks. There are five distinct tastes as it trickles over the tongue. It is like swallowing a sp-spectrum."