MIKE KEELER: The Magic Monkish Word

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After months of being stuck at home, you’ve probably cleaned out your closets, explored the dark corners of your fridge, rooted through your pantry and perhaps found some odd specimens in your…um…your liquor cabinet. Which leads to the following pop quiz:

What word denotes a color, a flavor, a monastery and a mountain range?

The backstory begins in Paris in 1605, when a French alchemist named François Hannibal d’Estrées provides a recipe for an “elixir of long life” to some monks of the Carthusian order. The brothers take the recipe back to their grand monastery in the mountains outside Grenoble, and start cooking and distilling the formula, which uses over 130 herbs and flowers in a wine base. The result is a liqueur that is intended for medicinal purposes but, since it also happens to be rather tasty, makes for a nice nip every now and then.

The Carthusians keep the recipe secret – to this day only two brothers know the full ingredient list – and they don’t share their elixir with the outside world for over a century. But the word slowly gets out, and in 1764 the monastery decides to produce it for public consumption. It’s a huge success. Folks are entranced by the liqueur’s sweet, spicy, pungent taste. But even more noteworthy is the elixir’s color, a vivid yellow/green.

Unfortunately, fame comes at a heavy price. In 1793, the monks are expelled from France, and manufacture of the elixir ceases until 1838, when the monks are allowed to return. In 1903, the French government outlaws the distillation of the elixir, and the monks move their operations to Spain.

Each time the monks leave, counterfeit versions of their elixir appear. But the recipe is so complicated that no one can quite replicate the flavor or, perhaps more importantly, the legendary distinctive tint of the original. Fun Marketing Fact: it’s a color that is exactly halfway between yellow and green, which earns it a place as an official tertiary hue in the graphic arts. Specifically, the color is (127, 255, 0) on the RGB color wheel, and (50, 0, 100, 0) on the CMYK spectrum.

After World War 2, the monks bring their operations back to France.

Today, distillation of the liqueur goes on at the place where it started. The elixir is produced – with the exact proprietary flavor and color – in that one monastery in the mountains high above Grenoble.

And the name of those mountains, that monastery, that flavor, that color?

Chartreuse.

Mike Keeler

Mike Keeler