Just a little fluff & stuff today…
Our family has a strong affection for the Carthusian Monk’s.
A dear friend of ours, Charlie, introduced us to a fun-fact about these beloved monks many-many years ago – as we shared a toast together for the first time with the “Elixir of Long Life.”
Yes, our first taste of Green Chartreuse VEP, produced by the Carthusian monks, was indeed many years ago – yet has since become a cherished family tradition for our family at every important or meaningful life event.
You can always expect to share this warm, (some would say burning,) minty green liquor with us, to ‘mark the occasion’.
Special milestones, weddings, births, new homes, deployments, job promotions – would not be the same without a shot of Green Chartreuse VEP, made by these holy men! We’ve grown accustomed to its honored presence during these special moments in time, and have formed wonderful memories passing this tradition on to others we’ve been blessed to share a toast with.
The Order of Chartreuse was more than 500 years old, when in 1605, at a Chartreuse monastery in Vauvert, a small suburb of Paris, the monks received a gift from Duc Francois Hannibal d’ Estrées, Marshal of King’s Henri IV artillery : an already ancient manuscript from an “Elixir” soon to be nicknamed “Elixir of Long Life”. This manuscript was probably the work of a 16th century alchemist with a great knowledge of herbs and with the skill to blend, infuse, macerate the 130 of them to form a perfect balanced tonic. In the early 17th century, only a few monks and even fewer apothecaries understood the use of herbs and plants in the treatment of illness.
The manuscript’s recipe was so complex that only bits and pieces of it were understood and used at Vauvert.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the manuscript was sent to the Mother House of the Order – La Grande Chartreuse – in the mountains not far from Grenoble. Here an exhaustive study of the manuscript was undertaken.
The Monastery’s Apothecary, Frère Jerome Maubec, finally unravelled the mystery and, in 1737, drew up the practical formula for the preparation of the Elixir in 1764.
The distribution and sales of this new medicine were limited. One of the monks of La Grande Chartreuse, Frère Charles, would load his mule with the small bottles that he sold in Grenoble and other nearby villages.
Today, this “Elixir of Long Life” is still made only by the Chartreuse monks following that ancient recipe, and is called Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse.
This “liqueur of health” is all natural plants, herbs and other botanicals suspended in wine alcohol – 69% alcohol by volume, 138 proof.
The French Revolution erupted in 1789. Members of all Religious Orders were ordered out of the country. The Chartreuse monks left France in 1793.
They made a copy of the manuscript kept by one of them who remained in the Monastery. Another Monk was in charge of the original.
Shortly after leaving the “Grande Chartreuse” he was arrested and sent to prison in Bordeaux. Fortunately, he was not searched and was able to secretly pass the original manuscript to one of his friends Dom Basile Nantas.
Dom Basile, convinced the Order would never come back to France and unable to make the Elixir himself, sold the recipe to Monsieur Liotard, a pharmacist in Grenoble.
Mr. Liotard never produced the Elixir.
When Monsieur Liotard died, his heirs returned the manuscript to the Chartreuse Monks who had returned to their Monastery in 1816.
In 1903, the French government nationalized the Chartreuse distillery. The monks were expelled. The distillers went to Spain where they built a new distillery in Tarragona. And, from 1921 to 1929, an additional one in Marseille (France).
Early in the years following the nationalization of the distillery and of the Monastery, the French government sold the trademark “Chartreuse” to a group of distillers who set up the “Compagnie Fermière de la Grande Chartreuse”.
It was in existence until 1929, the year when it went bankrupt.
The shares were bought by friends of the Monks and offered to them. Thus, the Monks regained ownership of the Chartreuse trademark.
They returned to their distillery, which had been built in 1860 at Fourvoirie, not far from the Monastery, and resumed production of the true Chartreuse liqueurs.
In 1935, Fourvoirie was almost totally destroyed by a landslide; manufacturing was transferred to Voiron
where it remains today.
The selection, crushing and mixing of the secret herbs, plants and other botanicals used in producing the liqueurs is done in the monastery by two monks.
Once mixed the ingredients are taken to Voiron were they are first left to macerate in carefully selected alcohol, then distilled.
Finally, these liqueurs are aged for several years in huge oak casks and placed into the world’s longest liqueur cellar for maturation.
A small portion of the liqueur is selected for special treatment. This bit of liqueur is aged for an extra length of time and, after the chief distiller declares it ready for bottling, it is packaged and marketed as V.E.P. Chartreuse (“Viellissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé”). Each bottle of V.E.P. – a reproduction of the one used in 1840 – is individually numbered, sealed with wax and presented in its own carefully-fitted wooden boxSince 1970, a company named “Chartreuse Diffusion” is in charge of bottling, packaging, advertising and selling the products still prepared by two Carthusian Brothers entrusted with this mission by their Order.
They work in the greatest secrecy and are the only ones who know the details of manufacturing!
Even today the formula remains a mystery which modern investigation methods have not been able to penetrate.
Whenever someone tastes Green Chartreuse VEP for the first time with us, the predominate experience they express having is the incredible warm sensation that is felt as it moves down from your mouth, through the throat, and throughout one’s body. It was advertised, from the onset by the Monk’s, as the Elixir of Long Life because it was said to cure those who drank of it from, “every illness AND all evil Spirits.”
*We cannot attest to the complete accuracy of this statement, as there may have been (just a few) who still perhaps have remaining evil Spirits lingering, even after having imbibed. Just saying….be for-warned.
Every time our family pulls out one of the wooden Green Chartreuse boxes to be used for a special occasion – the memories from all the previous moments, shared with others, come flooding back and our hearts are warmed.
THAT is the true beauty VEP has brought to us. The warmth we feel; not necessarily just from partaking in the drink, but in experiencing those moments celebrated – knowing we are creating lasting memories, which will forever be cherished.
If you have shared a toast with us in the past and your name can be found on one of our many boxes – we THANK YOU for celebrating life with us & we will always be grateful for the impact you have made in our lives.
Always remember…we think of you each & every time a box is dusted off!
And we look forward to all the new names we shall continue to add!
*Disclaimer: I can take no credit for any unintentional resemblance between statuary “herb-garden protector” Friar Charles, & human “off-the-rails death-driver” Charlie.
hugs n’ blessings to all those creating meaningful traditions with one another!