Today is a special day! The Pope is in town! He arrived last night and will stay through Thursday, Popemobiling his way around the city, and not all that far from our apartment–not something we can recall happening in Somerville.
There aren’t any actual indications that the pope will be knocking on our door (sigh), but with Pope Francis you never know. Thus, we thought it best to be prepared and put some thought ahead of time into what we’d offer him to drink if he did. A moment’s reflection led us to the obvious choice: a wonderful green liqueur, made by the monks themselves, called Chartreuse.
With a minimal number of changes, varieties, and interruptions (things like the French Revolution, a landslide, and WWII caused small and brief disruptions), Chartreuse has been made according to a secret recipe by the same house of French monks since 1737. They actually started trying to make it in 1605, but didn’t feel like they’d really nailed the recipe for another 100 years. Four hundred years of practice makes perfect. To this day, only two living monks are permitted to know the secret recipe at any given time.
While its monastic associations alone make it the clear choice for a papal digestif, Chartreuse has a lot besides that to recommend it. First of all, there’s the color. It’s such a marvelous color that we’ve named an official color after it.
And then there’s the taste.It has an inimitable, complex herbal flavor. It somehow manages to be both sweet and strong. Chartreuse is a genuine, multi-sensory pleasure to consume.
Since a total of two men oversee the entire global production of Chartreuse, it’s a rather rare and expensive bottle of liquor. There’s a VEP version which is quite expensive indeed, about $170 per bottle (I once tasted a sip of that VEP version at a cocktail lounge. It was sublime). Even the standard version is pricey enough, at about $60, to make it the most expensive bottle in my bar.
Because of its steep price, I tried for a while to avoid stocking it in my bar at all. I knew from my experience of Chartreuse that I enjoy strongly flavored herbal liqueurs, but for a while I tried to be satisfied with somewhat less exclusive herbals, like the Italian digestifs Galliano and Strega.
These are quite pleasant liqueurs in and of themselves; we usually keep one or the other of them in our bar. But they’re not Chartreuse. Eventually, I broke down and bought a bottle. To be precise, I bought a bottle of Green Chartreuse. There’s also a yellow version, which is sweeter and somewhat lighter on the palate. It’s pretty enough and pleasant enough in its own right, but in the end I deal only in green. While Yellow Chartreuse has a different character from Galliano and Strega, it’s not different enough in my mind to warrant its +50% price tag. When a drink calls for Yellow Chartreuse, I feel comfortable substituting Strega. Green Chartreuse, however, is irreplaceable.
Chartreuse is meant to be consumed straight or with a little ice, in the European digestif style, but to make the bottle last, I’ve gravitated toward using it in cocktails instead. I have three favorite chartreuse cocktails. Conveniently three is a holy number, so in honor of the trinity, to Pope Francis we would present this flight trio:
(Credit where credit is due: The first cocktail was a very pleasant surprise I ran across in the at the time newish Cambridge restaurant Puritan and Co. I was introduced to the next two by the eminent Boston cocktail lounge Drink.)
Pope Francis Chartreuse Flight
Drink 1: Jump for Joy
This is a great drink for your friend who says that cocktails always taste too strong for them; using Vermouth as a base gives it a much lighter touch than a spirit-based cocktail. Don’t think of it as a drink for lightweights, though. It’s also simply a great drink, both smooth and complex at the same time. It particularly goes down well on a hot summer day; don’t tell anyone, but Steph and I have made a habit of bringing a thermos of it along with us on our trips to the beach.
- 2 oz. dry vermouth (I use Boissiere)
- 1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse (this is one where you can sub in Strega for a somewhat different, but still refreshing, flavor. Given it’s lower price point, Strega is especially a good choice for a brunch party, for instance)
- Club soda to taste
Pour Vermouth and Chartreuse over ice in a glass. Stir. Float club soda on top.
Drink 2: The Diamondback
This one is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Jump for Joy. It’s for your friend who really likes their cocktail to kick them. All of the ingredients (including Green Chartreuse, which has 55% alcohol by volume, as opposed to the more typical 40% found in Yellow) have higher than average alcohol contents.
- 1 1/2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
- 3/4 oz. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
- 1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse
Stir with ice in a mixing glass and strain.
Drink 3: The Bijou
A Chartreuse variation on the Negroni.
- 1 oz. gin
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
- 1 oz. Green Chartreuse
Shake with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a cherry, but not one of those bright red ones you find in ice cream shops; use a genuine Luxardo cherry (or the far cheaper than the Luxardo but far better than the bright red ones from Filthy Foods).
(And in all seriousness we think the Pope is amazing. Not just because visiting two unknown people to have a drink with them is something he just might actually do, but because he seems to understand the greatness and gracious and love of God in a way few do. He is one of the few people among who I think, “I want to know the God you know!”)