Chartreuse. Most people think of this as the color halfway between green and yellow, or a long forgotten member of the 64-pack of Crayola crayons. It’s also one of the oldest herbal liqueurs and the only one that is naturally green in color. So you might think that the silent monks who bestowed this beloved elixir upon us named it after the color that it resembled, but actually, it’s the other way around—the color was named for the liqueur. And both the liqueur and the Carthusian monks who craft it were named after their home in the Chartreuse Mountains near Grenoble, France. The recipe for Chartreuse is closely-guarded—only ever known to two monks at a time. Among the most reclusive of orders, the Carthusians have let little knowledge escape of their custom of collecting the herbs and flowers, the alchemy of transforming them into Chartreuse.
I knew I’d love Chartreuse long before I ever lifted a delicate glass of it to my lips, back when I was still a fledgling writer living in a crumbling artists’ community. But fine French liqueurs don’t come cheaply, and my barista wages were never going to stretch far enough for such a luxury. Then one night after walking home from yet another unprofitable Saturday night closing shift at the café, there it was waiting for me on the kitchen table—Chartreuse, gleaming in the low lamplight, a surprise midnight birthday gift to commemorate the end of my twenties.
To me, chartreuse is more than just a color. It’s a feeling—the feeling you get when you’ve waited so long for something that you always knew was meant for you, the special kind of joy that can only come from fleeting things. And most of all, the feeling of those herbs and flowers, that mountainside, those men across the ages, treading lightly, kneeling in their linen robes, taking just a little from each plant—a flower here, an herb there, never too much. The taste of a mountainside in a fragile glass—only those who have love for the land that is their refuge, for each leaf and bloom they gather are capable of such a thing.