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.

Distiller’s Workbook exercise 2 of 15

This is the umpteenth draft of the second lesson in my Distiller’s Workbook. I started it as a book project with the idea of generating interest in distillation by showing a simplified form of it based on the re-distillation of tax paid commercial products.

Over time, the recipes have been elevated from merely low involvement cocktail-centric creations into being a workbook of exercises for new distillers to learn big concepts in distillation on small scale equipment with affordable batch sizes. Hopefully new distillers will be able to learn most all the what-if scenarios of operating a still so they can instead deepen their involvement with the sourcing & processing of raw materials, fermentation, and then the maturing of spirit.

A big focus of the workbook is to expose new distillers to the giant body of research concerning the subject via referencing it. I started by collecting every book on the distillation I could find and that still left a lot of questions. I eventually started collecting forgotten and seldom seen journal articles.  These were newly digitized or trapped behind pay walls and I have read hundreds in the last few years.  Most professional distillers do not even know this massive body of work exists so I hope to weave it into the content and introduce it to people.

De-constructing and Re-constructing Chartreuse

The Chartreuses are one of the great curiosities of the spirits world. Their production is ancient and mysterious. Their aromas are other worldly and defy attempts at being translated into articulate language. They are also very much an acquired taste. To better understand the Chartreuses, it might help to dissect them with distillation and see what is happening under those colored facades. This exercise will also give insights into a seldom recognized and little understood phenomenon of volatility brought on by compounds, in this case sucrose, playing the role of fixatives.

One of the common Chartreuse misconceptions is that they are partially constructed from undistilled macerations of botanicals which result in the infamous colors. As distilling the Chartreuses reveals, all of the aromas present, with a caveat we will explore, (and with the exception of the Acacia honey that sweetens the Yellow) are volatile and are a product of being distilled. This means that though many people describe the Chartreuses as bitter, underneath the sugar there is no gustatory bitterness. What gets categorized as bitterness (and we might be confusing it with sourness!) is solely from aroma. Good news for playing around with Chartreuse.

Understanding Chartreuse may be benefited by describing them with cross modal metaphors which are sometimes also called grounded metaphors by linguists; basically one sense is described in terms of another. We all use grounded metaphors whether we recognize it or not, but we all don’t elaborate them to their full potential. The aroma of Green Chartreuse can be described as a series of olfactory-dry aromas from a tight spectrum that converges with the color green contrasted by faint intervals of both olfactory-sweet anise and lemon. The sugar that sweetens Green Chartreuse is non-aromatic.

The aroma of Yellow Chartreuse can be described as a series of olfactory-dry aromas from a tight spectrum that converges with the color yellow contrasted by the olfactory-sweet aroma of the Acacia honey used to sweeten it and a faint interval of olfactory-sweet anise. Acacia honey is one of the palest of the European varietal honeys.

Being made from distillates means that the Chartreuses are a good candidate for manipulation via re-distillation. There are no important gustatory features defining the flavor that cannot be separated from the sugar. We can therefore separate Green Chartreuse from its non-aromatic white sugar (and color) and replace it with an aromatic sugar source of our choice. The de-constructed distillate can then be re-constructed with the same sugar and alcohol contents as before. The only major difference would be the additional aroma and the lack of green color (the color can be replaced with liquid chlorophyll dye sold by health food stores).

The aromatic sugar source contributes aroma in the same way as the Acacia honey in Yellow Chartreuse which is via simply dissolving one into the other, but aroma can also be increased further by adding aroma sources before re-distillation. It is easy to envision crab apples, rose petals, or any aroma sources with olfactory-sweetness found in the backyard that can monogram and personalize a Chartreuse bottling.

A favorite aromatic addition to Green Chartreuse is Jaggery (and not just for its euphonic qualities!) which is the sugar of the coconut palm and has the loveliest of coconut aromas. The Jaggery sugars on the market do seem to show variance and not all sugars labeled as Jaggery are purely derived from coconut palms. The favorite of the many acquired for recipe development was the whitest in color and had the most intense aroma.

Now for the caveat. Not all of the aroma can be captured by re-distillation and the reason is the fixative effect of the sucrose. The Chartreuses, being liqueurs, have quite a bit of sugar and all that sugar basically hangs on to a small percentage of the aroma. When you taste what is left in the pot after distillation, there is some aroma left hanging around. The aroma left behind isn’t much and it might be safe to say that it is less than 5%. What isn’t known is if adding water to dilute the concentration of sugar can reduce the fixative effect.

Fixatives are commonly used in the perfume industry to reduce the volatility of wearable fragrances so they can linger longer on the skin. They are also used to bring aromas together when they are perceived spatially so they are experienced as a symphony and not just a disparate sequence in order of decreasing volatility. Keep in mind, their common usage is with frontal olfactory experiences and not retronasal olfaction which governs most flavor experiences. According to Peter Atkins’ Molecules, animal derived fixatives like Civetone or Muskone, which have notoriously powerful aromas, are actually most commonly added sub recognition threshold where the odor is masked.

The power of fixatives is currently a hot topic in food processing due to new options like the sugar trehalose. Many research papers dehydrate fruit juices with added sugars and then try to measure how much aroma was left over. Maximizing fixative effect is important for high quality freeze drying. Sucrose exhibits a definite fixative effect but trehalose demonstrates an effect that is vastly more significant. The fixative effect of sucrose will put limitations of re-distilling Chartreuse but it should not deter anyone from experimenting.


500 mL Green Chartreuse

200 mL water

Mix and re-distill together on medium reflux until the thermometer on the still reads 100°C, or as high as your thermometer can go with the goal being to capture as much of the alcohol and aroma as possible. The extra water is added in an attempt to reduce the fixative effect of the sucrose as well as make sure the sugar doesn’t get too concentrated and stick to the sides of the boiler.

To reveal the sugar content of Chartreuse, what is left in the boiler should be collected, diluted back to the 500 mL original volume and left to cool to room temperature. Once at room temperature, the liquid left in the boiler can be measured with a brewer’s hydrometer to assess its sugar content. Finding the sugar content will reveal how much aromatic sugar it will take to restore the volatile alcoholic fraction to its original level.

Results revealed a specific gravity of 1.091 in the alcohol removed segment which corresponds to a sugar content of approximately 240 g/L. Do not be surprised if your results differ. Liqueurs are notorious for inconsistency.

To re-sweeten the alcoholic segment, weigh out 120 grams of grated Jaggery and stir patiently until the sugar dissolves (impatient people can use a blender). Dilute the results back to 500 mL with distilled water to match the original batch size. If desired, natural chlorophyll dye can be used to re-color the re-constructed a product close enough to its original green.

Jaggery sweetened green chartreuse contains the same series of olfactory-dry aromas as the original, but besides faint intervals of both olfactory-sweet anise and lemon peel there is also the intense olfactory-sweet coconut aroma from the Jaggery. Because of the influence of the introduced olfactory-sweet aroma, Jaggery sweetened Green Chartreuse will be perceived as sweeter than the original plain Green Chartreuse.

What is left in the pot after distillation of the Green Chartreuse can be evaporated until it is super saturated then used to grow green rock candy swizzle sticks to serve as an accompaniment to your Chartreuse cocktails. The angular texture of the rock candy can be seen as a metaphor for the aroma of the Chartreuses.

Yellow Chartreuse can be given the same treatment as Green, but the volatile aromas of the Acacia honey will also be somewhat present. It may be wonderful to experience a Yellow Chartreuse sweetened with a boutique varietal honey such as a rich Chestnut Flower, a pungently earthy Dandelion, or a spicy Corsican Strawberry Tree. Be aware that when sweetening with honey, they are typically 20% free water by weight which needs to be compensated for. Many varietal honeys also contain significant portions of wax. Any wax can either be embraced or separated by centrifuging for use in other applications.


Civil Disobedience

1.5 oz. Jamaican rum

.75 oz. sweet vermouth

.75 oz. Jaggery aromatized Green Chartreuse


Last Laugh

.75 oz. gin

.75 oz. Maraschino liqueur

.75 oz. Jaggery aromatized Green Chartreuse

.75 oz. lime juice


Champs Elysees”

1.5 oz. cognac

.75 oz. Jaggery aromatized Green Chartreuse

.75 oz. lemon juice

dash Angostura bitters

An Extinct Style Of Drink?

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Due to circumstances in my life I have evolved into a vermouth drinker. Some how this stuff called vermouth went from totally being in vogue to being completely ignored and barely written about where nearly all real knowledge of it has been lost generations ago and the producers seem to be as quiet as moonshiners. No one is exactly interviewing vermouth producers for wine spectator which I’d pay to read. Luckily with all this decline of things the price, for the most part, has stayed down in two buck chuck territory as well. One reason I think all this persists in modern times anyhow, is because true connoisseurship and afficion is really challenging. Vermouth is sort of alienating because its flavors are so adult, and apparently for many people its alcohol levels are too low for most people (the lushes) to bother with which I think is really significant to its decline.

Cocktails also are a problem for vermouth. The worst vermouth cocktail ever created was the dry martini. I’m not talking about a 1/8 dry vermouth cocktail or a wave of the bottle. I’m speaking of dry vermouth and gin in any ratio with bitters or not. For some reason variations with little deviation had such a profound impact that so few people moved in other directions after its popularity began. Erosion of taste slowly stripped away all the wine and an impatient culture that needed their buzz from one glass took over.

You don’t have a real vermouth drink until you mix up some flavor contrast. And most importantly, you cannot be afraid of having two or three if a buzz is your goal. A couple evenings ago I was looking for a drink for the Cocktail Chronicle’s MxMo event. In browsing the always inspirational cocktailDB, I came across Stephen’s cocktail. I was really impressed by this forgotten Stephen’s good taste. It totally read as my style.

1 oz. sherry (I interpreted this as dry sherry to get a good balance so I used La Cigarrera’s Manzanilla)
.75 oz. dry vermouth (European Noilly Prat)
.75 oz. Benedictine

The drink has a serious flavor to alcohol ratio and a really elegant acidity to sweetness ratio. I wish I could have a good bar experience somewhere drinking maybe five or six of these and pay beer prices because it has close to a craft beer cost basis. Another big problem for vermouth is the nature of our gouge restaurant economies. To sum it up quickly, distributors and marketers push super expensive products on the market leaving generations not even knowing that $12 liters of rye whiskey and rum are stunningly delicious, and to add insult to injury, restaurants in so many cities rather be half full all night long, gouging guests with super expensive drinks than actually work hard, understand spirits, and use products that don’t have pharmaceutical style promotional expenses.

Is there any room in the market for this class of fortified and aromatized wine drink? In matters of taste, sherry with its intense barrel treatment is like whiskey flavored wine (I group sherry drinks with vermouth drinks). I feel like people should be able to relate to it more than they think. Vermouth and sherry are also damn cheap relative to distilled spirits. Tapas places often sell small glasses of them for $5. Additionally, restaurants are trying to get people less drunk these days in the world of liability and conservatism and many people have to work increasing hours but still need time to unwind with some adult tasting stimulus. If in Milan, the vermouth drinkers happy hour is extended well into the evening by the perfect alcohol content and affordability of aromatized wine, couldn’t this new style of drink help revive many lagging urban bar cultures?

So now you’re curious and want to mix up some vermouth? The king of these drinks is the Half Sinner, Half Saint:

1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
1.5 oz. dry vermouth
.5 oz. absinthe (floated)
twist of something

I still have yet to find someone that doesn’t like this drink. the sweetness to dryness ratio is perfect. This drink also makes a dramatic mockery of absinthe. The cloying versus the relief. You can’t know pleasure until you know pain. I need to give No. 9 park credit for introducing it to me. Now one or two is a daily ritual. The two mentioned cocktails illustrate some of the really simple formats but just a few of the many players. When you know their simple properties like whats sweet and whats dry, things can easily be substituted to your wildest imagination.

The players:

Sherry: sweet or dry. Oxidized to elegance with flor yeast, in love with oak like whiskey flavored wine. Fresh styles like Manzanilla are very chamomily while 30 year old sweet sherries, as made by Matuselem, are like liquid bread pudding.

Vermouth: sweet, dry, or bianco. With so many different brands having styles that are hard to nail down, but with little exception all being good. some drys have more fruit than others. Some sweets are sweeter and some are more intense. Some biancos are more bitter than others.

Played out iconic: Brand names Lillet and Dubbonet are usually sweet, usually really orangey and more or less other stuff is more fun.

Forgotten savoy: The Savoy which covers parts of southern France and northern Italy in and around the Alps is aromatized wine country. There are so many forgotten specialties like Chamberyzette which is vermouth heavy handedly aromatized with Alpine strawberries. Chocolate’s best friend is the epic Barolo Chinato which is elegantly bitter aromatized Barolo wine. This region makes aromatized wines that would remind you of a more handsome Campari or a more complex Lillet. (great ones are made by Vergano)

Americano: More intensely bitter aromatized wines that kind of overlap with the Savoy specialities. Great producers are Vergano, Gancia, and I would say Vya of California. I’ve even made my own with good success.

Aromatized cheaters: Bitter and low alcohol but do not have a wine base (to my knowledge anyhow) Cynar, Campari, Aperol, Picon Bier.

Monastic contrast: Incredibly masterful aromatized high alcohol liqueurs. Masochistic flavor contrast, the Chartreuses which are an artistic synthesis of the flavor “rocket fuel” via booze and botanicals, and Benedictine which is liquid cigar concentrate.

The wines: Passito, Botrytised, Ice Wine. Sauternes, Port, :Madeira (cercial, bual, malmsey, rainwater!) Fresh or oxidized styles, honeyed, mysterious, and made under rare circumstances.

What can be surprising is how well certain brands perform in the randomness of it all. Cribari sweet vermouth anyone? Try it with some dry sherry like La Cigarrera Manzanilla and a finger of Saint James Royal Ambre rhum. There are a million ways to mix this style of drink and a million of them are already on the books. Check it out and see how much less whiskey you end up drinking.

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