The Chartreuse's Charm Lies In Its Elusiveness

"THE Chartreuse Shortage Is Real, And People Are Finally Noticing", declared one headline from August of 2022. "Where Has All the Chartreuse Gone?" queried another, from this February. And as recently as last week, the good folks over at VinePair magazine cautioned: "The Chartreuse ‘Shortage’ Won’t Be Ending Any Time Soon — Here’s Why".

Chartreuse is a French herbal liqueur made by monks belonging to the Carthusian Order since 1737 and derives its name from their monastery set amid the Chartreuse Mountains. The instructions for preparing the liqueur — that comprises distilled alcohol aged with "130 herbs, plants and flowers" — were set out in a manuscript that came into their possession in 1605, via François-Annibal d'Estrées, a noted French diplomat, who claimed the recipe was for an elixir that guaranteed a long life. 

While the story of what came after has far too many twists and turns for this humble newsletter to succinctly narrate, suffice it to say that by 1840, the monks were bottling the two varieties of Chartreuse that are available today: Green Chartreuse (mild; with "cinnamon, mace, lemon balm, dried hyssop flower tops, peppermint, thyme, costmary, arnica flowers, genepi, and angelica roots" to name a few of the known ingredients) and Yellow Chartreuse (sweet; with the addition of cardamom and socctrine aloes). 

Here's the critical part though: At any given time, only three monks have access to the highly secret recipe for preparing Chartreuse. And this is what brings us back to those alarming headlines about the liqueur's shortage. 

Surprisingly, it has a lot to do with how much demand for Chartreuse surged during the pandemic years. While the liqueur has long been a favourite of professional bartenders and mixologists, sales took off as quick-and-easy at-home cocktail mixes found favour among a locked-down populace. In turn, the monks found that keeping up the Chartreuse supply was eating into what they really wished to devote their time to: prayer, solitude and the pursuit of the monastic life. And so, in 2021, they made a decision to pull back on Chartreuse production, fulfilling orders based solely on allocation, and only as much as was needed to sustain their monastery. The environmental impact was also a consideration in this call to scale down production. Since the monks follow a vow of silence, this decision was communicated by letter.

While the wheels were set into motion in 2021, the effects of the monks' decision are being felt across markets over the past year, and more and more tipple enthusiasts are reporting on online forums (and elsewhere) that getting their hands on a bottle of Chartreuse has become well-nigh impossible. With bartenders now looking for alternatives and buyers snapping up any stray Chartreuse still stocked on liquor shop shelves, prayer (and hawkish internet sleuthing) might be the only way to get your hands on the elusive elixir in the future.