Dawn's interest in Chartreuse started back when she was managing a hair salon before getting more serious about bartending. The staff would go out to a French bistro across the street at the end of the shift and enjoy glasses of Prosecco and glasses of Chartreuse, neat. "That's how we would close out the night, and it was super enjoyable, so I have to thank my stylist friends for getting me into that," she says.
Later, as she got involved with the Boston chapter of the United States Bartenders' Guild (USBG), she began to delve more into Chartreuse's historical aspects while falling more in love with it at industry brunch at Trina's Starlite Lounge, where "Matt's Quickie" is on the menu — a White Russian with chocolate Quick and a green Chartreuse float. "It's basically Chartreuse chocolate milk," she says. "It's so delicious and dangerous. It's sort of a low-brow version of verte chaud, basically hot chocolate with green chartreuse in it that the ski bunnies drink in France and Switzerland."
"For Christmas," she continues, "you always get awful peppermint schnapps and hot chocolate as sort of an American tradition, and we need to throw that out the window. Green Chartreuse and hot chocolate all the way. Forever."
While Booze Époque was getting off the ground and Dawn and Sinclair were getting involved with USBG, they had the opportunity to connect with a lot of brand ambassadors for various liquors. At one point, the Chartreuse vice president came to town and "gave a really in-depth talk about the history of the Carthusian monks," and it really played to Dawn's mystical side (she has been a professional tarot card reader for more than 15 years.)
"The monastery is in the mountains in this beautiful and magical place so steeped in history and mysticism," says Dawn. "If you know anything about the history of any of the older liqueurs, they're all steeped in magic, and that's why I love it so much. The herbs were meant to be medicine, and they're such a guarded secret — and now we get to enjoy them in tiki cocktails. It's always fascinated me."
"Technically there are only two monks who handle the herbs," Dawn continues. "They guard the recipe with their lives, and it's a silent order, so these monks are only allowed to speak for a few hours on Mondays when they go for a hike in the mountains."
Chartreuse comes in green and yellow varieties — and there's an additional aged version of each color, known as Chartreuse VEP ("Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé," or "exceptionally prolonged aging") — and while both colors have the same 130 herbs and spices, they're in different proportions. Because the recipe is so secret, it's only a guess when people pinpoint what causes the different colors, but a common assumption is that higher amounts of saffron and honey are present in yellow Chartreuse. "That's why it goes so much better, I think, with brown spirits," says Dawn. "The aged yellow is an absolute dream. Regular yellow is so sweet, and I'm not one for really sweet liqueurs in general, but green Chartreuse I could drink well into the night."
In the mid-to-late 1800s, there was also a white Chartreuse, but as far as Dawn knows, that one no longer exists anywhere. Nowadays, the company also produces Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse, another combination of the standard 130 ingredients, but that one is not available in the United States. "It breaks my heart," says Dawn. "I wish they would just let us have it."
For Chartreuse newcomers, Dawn recommends trying the classic Last Word cocktail, which combines Chartreuse with gin, lime, and maraschino. "It's very tasty, very balanced, extremely boozy," says Dawn, "so that's a really nice entryway into Chartreuse. You're going to get the botanicals from the gin you're drinking as well as the botanicals from the Chartreuse, plus that nice bitter and sour flavor from the maraschino and the lime."
Dawn and Sinclair also make a variation they call the Next to Last Word, where they swap out the gin for vodka in order to highlight the Chartreuse even more, adding muddled fresh basil as well. "It's just a little switch and it brightens things up for people who find gin too polarizing," says Dawn. "But I'm from England, so I feel like gin is kind of in my blood."
When it comes to food pairings, Dawn praises Chartreuse's complexity for allowing it to pair well with a lot of different things. "You can really eat a nice, meaty, earthy lamb or steak and potato meal. When you have 130 herbs and seeds and barks and flavors going on, you can really complement it with so much," she says. "If you're having something like the Last Word, which is so herbaceous and bright, that's really going to help cleanse your palate of a deep meal, but it can also complement something as simple as a sandwich."
"Chartreuse is so versatile," says Dawn, "and being such an old spirit and coming from such an old distillery, it has that sort of a history that is a testament to what you can do with it."
[Main photo via Chartreuse on Facebook; photo of Harmony Dawn provided.]