When it comes to old-school liqueurs, you can’t get more legit than Chartreuse.
Made in yellow and green varieties, it’s been produced for centuries by French monks according to closely held recipes said to include more than 130 herbs, flowers and other what have yous. The result? A fascinating, unmistakable liqueur that adds complexity and depth to cocktails across the board.
Today we’re talking about yellow Chartreuse, which clocks in at 80 proof, the same as most standard spirits. Don’t confuse yellow Chartreuse with green. The latter is delicious in its own way, but more aggressively flavored, less sweet and a good bit more alcoholic. It’s excellent in cocktails, too, but not in these recipes.
The recipes here all feature the slightly sweet, deeply herbal flavors of yellow Chartreuse, and don’t require much in the way of fancy ingredients or equipment. If you’re up for it, here’s a bit of extra credit for this week: Get a bottle of Fee Brothers Old Fashion aromatic bitters. Cinnamony and a little savory, these bitters bring out the spice in two of these drinks. Angostura bitters will work too, but believe us—once you’ve got the Old Fashion, you’ll find plenty of other uses for it.
Easy: Chartreuse and Tonic
Fan of a good G&T? (Who isn’t, really.) Refreshing but bitter, lively and crisp, it’s about as sophisticated as a drink with two ingredients can get. Here, we’re swapping out gin for yellow Chartreuse—dialing up all those interesting herbal qualities.
Instructions: Add 1½ ounces of yellow Chartreuse to a tall glass with ice. Add your favorite tonic water to fill, about 4 ounces. Take a tall, fresh rosemary sprig, lightly tap it on your hand a few times to release its aromatic oils, and stick ’er in as a garnish.
Intermediate: Absalom’s Retreat
Irish whiskey, such as everyone’s friend Jameson, has a natural sweetness and viscosity (translation: thickness; remember that high school chemistry?). In this drink, it helps bring out and support the herbaceousness of the yellow Chartreuse, letting you taste more of the herbs in the liqueur.
The little bit of honey (or agave syrup) doesn’t really sweeten the drink; it just binds all of the flavors together. Such is often the case with cocktails. Even if you’re a sugar-phobe, never leave out the sweetener altogether, or ask your bartender to. The balance will be all out of whack, and realistically, we’re talking about maybe six sugar calories. (While you’re drinking straight booze. What’s really the health issue here?)
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, add 1 ounce of yellow Chartreuse and 1 ounce of Irish whiskey (we loved Powers Irish whiskey here, though old, faithful Jameson works great, too). Dash in a few drops of the Old Fashion bitters we talked about above, if you have it, or Angostura if you don’t. Sweeten with just ¼ ounce of honey syrup: That’s honey cut one-to-one with hot water, so that it mixes into the drink. (Agave syrup, also cut one-to-one, would work well here, too.)
Stir that all together, and strain it over fresh ice. Garnish with a thick lemon peel, twisting it before you drop it into the glass to release its fragrant oils.
Advanced: East of Eden
If you think tequila is useful only for Cinco de Mayo, think again. Lightly aged reposado tequila has all sorts of vegetal, slightly grassy notes that pair beautifully with Chartreuse. Basil and ginger turn it into a lively, spring-appropriate drink with a fascinating depth.
Instructions: Tonight, we muddle. In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle (that is: smash up) a chunk of fresh ginger—a thin slice about the size of your thumb. (Let’s call that ¼ inch thick by 1½ inches long, if you wanna get technical.) Tear in three fresh basil leaves, and add 2 ounces of reposado tequila—we love Don Julio—along with 1 ounce of yellow Chartreuse, ¾ ounce of lemon juice and ¼ ounce of simple syrup (that’s just one-to-one sugar dissolved in hot water.)
Add ice and shake it together. Since you’ve got all of those ginger bits in there, it’s best to double-strain it over fresh ice: Pour the mixture out through your shaker’s strainer through a fine mesh strainer, the kind you probably have around for kitchen projects. Garnish the drink with a basil leaf, and a drop of those aromatic bitters, which will elegantly bleed and sink to the bottom. (Angostura will work well too, but the visual impact isn’t quite the same.)