There's No Need to Panic-Buy Chartreuse

The monks who make the French liqueur announced they won't be ramping up production to meet demand.

<p>Brent Hofacker / Getty Images</p>

Brent Hofacker / Getty Images

For as long as cocktail bars have been slinging drinks, Chartreuse has graced menus and back bars. The liqueur — coming in both yellow and green hues — is based on a secret recipe which, since 1605, has been entrusted to the Carthusian Order, a group of Catholic monks based in the Chartreuse Mountains of southeast France who have produced the herbal elixir for centuries to fund their monasteries.

The rise of cocktail culture has inspired a recent revival of Chartreuse’s popularity among both bartenders and everyday consumers — as demonstrated in March at a record-breaking Chartreuse auction in Geneva, during which all 648 lots on offer were sold. So when folks realized they could no longer locate bottles at their local liquor stores and bars, murmurs of a Chartreuse shortage began to spread across the Internet.

As it turns out, the Carthusians quietly lowered output in 2019, and explained in an official January 2023 letter that they would not be increasing their annual quota to meet rising demand. “They are limiting production to focus on their primary goal: protect their monastic life and devote their time to solitude and prayer,” the letter stated.

That means Chartreuse won’t be getting any easier to find any time soon. What are bartenders whose allocations are dwindling to do?

Related:5 Beers Made by Real Monks

Many bars still have at least a bottle or two of Chartreuse left lying around, but for Orlando Franklin McCray, bar director of Nightmoves in Brooklyn, running out wouldn’t be the end of the world. “If someone orders a Naked & Famous and we just don’t have yellow Chartreuse, I’m happy to tell them why,” he said. “I’m not gonna clamor for bottles or try to find some dusty ones. If we can’t get it, then we won’t have it.”

McCray stresses the importance of recognizing the human effort that goes into products like Chartreuse and understanding that some things are more important than a bar program. “They’re monks,” he said. “They have a higher purpose than making you Chartreuse everyday.”

Though the shortage is certainly being felt by fans of the liqueur, the team at Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd. — Chartreuse’s U.S. importer — is supportive of the monks’ decision. “Chartreuse is not just a manufactured large spirit. It legitimately is made by monks — there are three that know the recipes,” said Kari Brandt, vice president and general manager of wholesale at Frederick Wildman. “It is a very human product, so we have to respect the decision of the people who make it.”

Related:6 New American Liqueurs To Try Now

Others who aren’t quite as zen about the issue are scrounging for those dusty bottles and may even look to the secondary market — where rare expressions like “unicorn” bourbons can sell for up to 10 times their market price — to purchase the hard-to-find liqueur.

For those craving the unique botanical flavors of Chartreuse or are tasked with making a Last Word, McCray instead recommends subbing in one of the many lesser-known herbal liqueurs on the market, like Faccia Brutto’s Centerbe, which retails for under $50. Brandt also points out that Chartreuse Elixir Végétal — a more potent herbal extract from the brand — is more widely available on the U.S. market and can introduce a similar earthy note to cocktails with just a few drops.

Still, just because it’s in short supply doesn’t mean Chartreuse is at risk of extinction. “We are doing our very best to make sure that supporters of Chartreuse can get their hands on it,” Brandt said. “There’s still Chartreuse; there’s just not enough.”

Recent coverage by widely-read outlets including the New York Times resulted in soaring demand for Chartreuse from retailers and bar professionals — a mad rush for the spirit that McCray believes is partially responsible for the vacuum in supply. “If everyone would stop freaking out about it, we’d be fine,” he said.

Brandt hopes the liqueur’s newfound scarcity will usher in a new era for Chartreuse — one that’s less centered around cocktails. If you manage to snag one of these precious bottles, Brandt suggests sipping the 130-ingredient spirit on its own. “It deserves to be drunk with care and thoughtfulness,” she said — a sentiment surely shared by the monks who craft it.

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