Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur made by the Carthusian Monks near Grenoble, France. According to the tale, the formula for chartruese was invented by a 16th century alchemist as an attempt to create aqua vitae (the waters of life.) Aqua vitae was believed to restore youth to the aged, endow animation to the dead, and be a key ingredient in the creation of the philosophers stone. Though this attempt at its creation seems to fall somewhat short of the legendary effects, it was promoted as a heal-all tonic by the descendant of the alchemist, and was bequeathed to the Carthusian Order upon his death. This formula of 130 herbs has been secret for nearly 400 years. Today, only three brothers of that monestary know how to make chartreuse.
Charteuse is made in three varieties; yellow chartreuse, green chartreuse, and VEP elixir chartreuse. Yellow chartreuse is a pale golden color, extremely sweet, and tastes roughly like plum wine with a touch of honey, or perhaps a delicate version of Benedictine (which is probably related.) Green chartreuse is fiery; the shade of green actually named for this liquor denotes an intense herbal taste vaguely reminiscent of absinthe. Also like absinthe, it has an extremely high alcohol content. VEP elixir chartreuse, the rarest and most expensive kind, sacrifices a small amount of green's intensity for all of the sweetness of the yellow. Only 100 bottles of VEP elixir are produced each year, and it is the variant closest to the original alchemical formula. It is also, supposedly, the most difficult to create.
Though the precise herbs in chartreuse are not publically known, there is a small quantity of thujone, the active chemical in wormwood (and consequently, absinthe.) This considered, it is no surprise that the intoxication caused by chartruese is both stronger than it's alcohol content (110 proof) would otherwise indicate, and slightly different because of thujone's psychoactive qualities.
Green chartreuse is particularly loved in the goth scene because of it's efficiency; a very small quantity can maintain a buzz for most of an evening, and a larger quantity can take the sharp edges off of everything. For many, it is the poor man's absinthe; it has a smidgen of its psychotropic effects because of the thujone, and it has an herbal taste and a sharp kick reminiscent of absinthe experience. A few shots of green chartreuse, and you're completely wasted.
VEP chartreuse is loved for these reasons and more; its rarity, its remarkable taste, and its fascinating and mysterious lineage.
Yellow chartreuse is not as popular in the goth scene as its sister liquors; there is nothing particularly wrong with it, but the others outshine it in every way.
Nevertheless, the popularization of Chartreuse within the goth scene can be attributed to an additional source; Poppy Z. Brite. In her debut novel, Lost Souls, she mentions (Green) Chartreuse eight times within the prologue alone, and is the alcoholic drink of choice among the undead throughout the novel. Bela Lugosi's "I never drink... wine" be damned; the zing of Chartreuse seems potent enough to get a rise out of the dead and the living. Well, at least Poppy thinks so.
Commentary by Clifford Hartleigh Low, Thursday, April 30, 1998.
|Illustration by Kurt Komoda|