An elixir from the French Alps, frozen in time

“The secret of Chartreuse has long been the despair of distillers, just as the natural blue of forget-me-nots has been the desperation of painters,” reads an 1886 document referenced in a recent history of the company and order. . Father Holleran oversaw the distillation process for five years, ordering ingredients and planning the production schedules. When he left the site in 1990, he became the only living outsider to know the liqueur’s age-old formula.

“It’s safe with me,” he said. “Strangely, they didn’t let me sign anything when I left.”

This trade secret is both a marketing grab and a potential disaster. “I really have no idea what I’m selling,” a Chartreuse Diffusion executive told The New Yorker in 1984. ‘I am always very scared. Only three of the brothers know how to make it – no one else knows the recipe. And every morning they drive together to the distillery. And they drive a very old car. And they drive very badly with it. “

Besides the two monks who now protect it, everyone else – Carthusian or not – involved in the production of Chartreuse knows only fragments of the recipe.

In the Grande Chartreuse, skilled monks receive, measure and sort 130 unlabeled plants and herbs in giant unmarked (or, by 2020, QR-coded) bags. Then, at the distillery, five non-Carthusian workers work with two white-clad monks to macerate, distill, blend and age the liqueur. An automated system also allows them to virtually monitor the distilling process from the monastery.

During the five week distillation process and throughout the subsequent years of maturation, those two monks are also the ones who taste the product and decide when it is ready to bottle and sell. “They are the quality control,” said Emmanuel Delafon, the current CEO of Chartreuse Diffusion.

The order almost exclusively owns the dissemination company and cooperates with the secular employees of the company, who perform tasks that are too alien to the hermetic calling of the order.

“It is their product and we are at their service,” said Mr Delafon. “They need it to maintain their financial independence. They trust us to make the link between monastic life and everything else. “