Make like an 18th-century Carthusian monk and get your hands on a bottle (or three) of this herbal French liqueur.
Although it’s long been a staple in cocktails like the Last Word and the Bijou, chartreuse remains something of an enigma. But it’s become the shot of choice for a clutch of eccentric bartenders, and now’s your chance to get better acquainted with the French liqueur: For a fleeting time this month, three versions will be on shelves at the LCBO. Here’s how to distinguish between green chartreuse, yellow, and the much-coveted VEP.
Green is the most common shade. It’s bold, medicinal, and spicy, but still quite sweet. Although citrus peel and mint can be clearly identified, the other 128 botanicals are anybody’s guess, since the ancient formula developed by Carthusian monks in the French Alps some four centuries ago is more closely guarded than Colonel Sanders’s secret blend of herbs and spices.
The relatively mild yellow chartreuse is a better fit in more delicate cocktails like the Rum Daisy (essentially a chartreuse Daiquiri), since the Buckley’s-esque quality of the liqueur is toned down. This variety has candied floral notes and heightened citrus flavours, and is significantly less potent.
Mid-month, some 180 bottles of the VEP (Viellissement Exceptionelle Prolongé, or “exceptionally prolonged aging”) will land in Ontario, and rumour has it we’re getting versions in both yellow and green. Despite the hefty price tag—$86.95 for 500ml—the supply will undoubtedly be snapped up by chartreuse fanatics. Softened by eight years spent in oak casks, this herbal remedy has a posh honey-and-spice flavour with a hit of anise and mint, and is best enjoyed chilled and served straight up.
Dave Mitton, owner and bartender at The Harbord Room, has been counting down to the VEP’s arrival. He’s considering a super-deluxe version of one of his signature cocktails, the Lady Sniper, but is worried about the sticker shock: Upgrading to yellow VEP and anejo tequila would jack the price from its current $15 to somewhere over the $20 mark.
“I put myself down for a case of each version of the VEP,” he says. “It might be just as well to keep it out of a cocktail, because you really want that stuff for straight sipping. I might just hoard as many bottles as I can for myself.”