H.W. Wiley’s Prohibition Era Telling of the Chartreuse Tale

This prohibition era telling of the Chartreuse legal situation comes from H.W. Wiley’s 1919 text, Beverages and their adulteration, origin, composition, manufacture, natural, artificial, fermented, distilled, alkaloidal and fruit juices. Wiley was a government Bureau chemist and former employer of New England rum architect Harris Eastman Sawyer. His job title gave him a privileged position, making him very much like IRS chemist Peter Valaer, but his writing style is very different and you can tell he wasn’t as brilliant.

The entire book is unique because it educates about spirits during prohibition from a privileged position (samples of everything came through Bureau labs). There is weird emoting and you can tell a subversive tone lurks throughout the whole book. When he includes different recipes for absinthe while denouncing it as evil, you wonder what his real position is. When he takes extra time to describe what are likely his favorite spirits, you wonder what his true position is on temperance was. The book is barely about adulteration, which after you spend enough time with it, seems like a ploy to get it past the censors and into the public libraries.

Anyhow, I was not aware of some of these details on the Chartreuse legal situation. Other liqueurs get no such attention besides absinthe.

Wiley’s telling of Chartreuse:

Chartreuse.—The first distillations of Chartreuse were made by St. Bruno in 1084. In 1656 after the lapse of 6 centuries the profits were so great that the monks erected a million dollar monastery at Fourvoire. The maximum annual Fourvoire production reached the huge figures of 80 million liters. Twelve different kinds of herbs were used. When gathered they were dried in well aired-cellars underneath the monastery and then macerated in water. It was this aqueous extract which mixed with alcohol and distilled gave the desired flavor to the product.

Use of the Term.—Since the expulsion of the religious orders from France and the consequent emigration of the Carthusian Monks from Grenoble, considerable confusion has arisen in different parts of the world respecting the use of the term Chartreuse. It was claimed by the French and this claim was sustained by their courts, that the administrator of the estate of the monks, appointed by the Republic to conduct the operations for the making of Chartreuse, was authorized to use the old name upon the product which he advertised. It is true this product was not made according to the secret formula of the monks, because no one knew exactly what that formula is. It was possible with the skilled labor which the administrator could secure, to produce a liqueur which resembles in many of its important respects the genuine.

The New Product.—On the other hand, the Carthusian Monks when they established themselves in Tarragona in Spain, continued the manufacture of the liqueur after the recipe which they had used at Grenoble, gathering the same kinds of herbs they had used at Grenoble from the Pyrenees, and in every other respect imitating the liqueur formerly made at Grenoble. The natural difference in the aromatics employed, and the change in the environment of manufacture resulted, as might have been expected, in the production of a liqueur which was distinctly inferior to that previously made near Grenoble. They called the new product Liqueur Peres Chartreux.

Thus the world was a double sufferer, since the French with the same materials at Grenoble could not make the Chartreuse the monks made before, and the monks with the same materials at Tarragona could only make an article inferior to their former product.

Decision of the Courts.—The question as to who had the right to use the word “Chartreuse” has been decided in the United States Courts. Judge Coxe, called attention in an interesting way to the essential points of contention:

The courts of France by a decision on March 31, 1903, dissolved the order of the Carthusian Monks at Grenoble and sequestered the entire property and appointed a receiver therefor. The court also held that all the business of the monks, including their good-will, clientage, trade marks, commercial names, models of bottles, flagons, cases, furniture, machinery, raw material, manufactured goods and the exclusive right to the industrial name L. Gamier, was the property of the monks and as such passed to the receiver to be liquidated. Thus it appears that every right and title which belonged to the monks, whether corporeal, or incorporeal, tangible or intangible, was, so far as the laws and courts of France are concerned, vested in the receiver appointed by the French Government.

The federal court also summarized the situation as to the monks and found that had they chosen to do so they could, with some necessary changes, have used the old label and trade marks in Spain; but they have seen fit not to do so probably because the labels would have been prohibited in France and they would thus have lost the French market, which, of course, is the most important. They could not have used the trade mark in the form registered in France, for it would have been a falsehood and a fraud on the public to assert that liqueur made at Tarragona, Spain, was manufactured at the convent of the Grand Chartreuse in France. This especially would have been a false statement, since the monks even had claimed that the peculiar excellence of their product came from the plants and herbs grown in the Alps in the vicinity of their Monastery.

It appears, therefore, that on their establishment in Spain, the monks of their own accord abandoned the use of their former labels and trade marks and put on their bottles an entirely different label, calling their product Liqueur Peres Chartreux.

The U. S. court also held that the use of the old labels by the French liquidator, or the parties to whom he sold the right, would prove deceptive to the customer, who would not only think that the liqueur was made as before at the Grand Chartreuse at Grenoble, but unless he Was familiar with the processes of the courts in France, would think also it was made by the monks themselves. Hence, any label used by the liquidator, or any one authorized by him, which would convey such an idea; that is, any label which was exactly similar to the old label used by the monks, must, of necessity, be deceptive. Thus any liqueur made subsequent to 1903, cannot be legally called Chartreuse in the United States.

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