Lake Khera, from Noble Estates, attends the Toronto Chartreuse Appreciation Society seminar.

The irony of Chartreuse is that it is at once highly recognizable and shrouded in mystery. Though we see it on countless quality cocktail menus, the green (or yellow) hued elixir seems to be coated in a thick veil of secrecy. Despite its presence, it manages not to lose its cool.

The deeper you dig, the mystery only heightens. You only need to ask what provides its enchanting and unmistakable flavour to be drawn into over four centuries worth of surprisingly dramatic history. And, of course, you’ll come out without an answer.

Room from behind bar - uncropped
It should hardly come as a surprise that there is a society in Toronto dedicated to the appreciation of this elixir. It’s not like most closed-door societies – there are none of the cloaks or candles and it’s not the middle of the night in some old and haunted manor. In fact, we were at Bar Begonia, Anthony Rose’s new French spot at Dupont and Spadina, on a Thursday afternoon.

mof poured closeup
The occasion for this gathering of the Chartreuse Appreciation Club was the opportunity to taste Chartreuse 1605 (a very limited production green version using something close to the original recipe, passed on to the Carthusian monks in – you guessed it – 1605). There were also a few bottles of a special edition of Yellow Chartreuse present, that was made for the prestigious French sommelier guild, the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France – Sommeliers. And this was all alongside a couple of cocktails made using the yellow and green versions that we are lucky enough to have easy access to through the LCBO.

oliver pouring cocktail
A good portion of the city’s best bartenders were seated at the semi-circular bar, run by Oliver Stern (formerly of the Toronto Temperance Society and pictured above). There was an authentic enthusiasm for what was being poured. Philippe Rochez – who hails from the mountains near the Chartreuse monastery and has been working with the distillery for over 25 years – brought the special offerings to share with our vibrant bartending community.

We spoke to a few of the many great drinks minds in the room to find out what brought them to this level of dedication to the spirit. Generally, people spoke with more romanticism than you often hear people speak about spirits, even old brandy or scotch. Instead, the imagery evoked was more similar to that often used when speaking about fine wines: a connection to the past, honesty, and a singularly unique creation.

Philippe speaks to room - cropped
For Tanya Delsole of Jacob’s Steakhouse, Chartreuse was “preserving a tradition that is overlooked and commodified to the point of no recognition. It gives us a link to the past.” There was a unanimous feeling that Chartreuse was somehow immune to the passing of time. Seems fitting for what was once believed to be an elixir of long life.

And then, there was talk of uniqueness of the flavours themselves. Julian Sauso-Bawa of Soho House put it best: “It’s the only liqueur of its kind. They’re the only ones doing what they do. They’re the only game in town.” There is no substitute offered, and no one seems to be looking for one, anyway.

It’s one of those flavours you can never grasp in it’s entirety. We are left wondering where its power comes from – you are drawn into the story at first sip.

The versatility for mixing and the complexity of the flavour, however, are the practical draws for a bartender. “It’s the perfect modifier” says Justin Shiels of Dai Lo, “…or spirit, straight.”

Until next time, Chartreuse Appreciation Society.

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