Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vegetable Substances

The monastery at Chartreuse was built in the 11th century, and the monks of the contemplative Order of Saint Bruno eventually turned their contemplation towards the subject of alcoholic beverages, like so many of their brothers in the lowlands where the hops and wheat grew for beer, or the vines trailed down the slopes leading to the wineries. In the craggy steep mountains, they found aromatic plants, some of which had interesting effects - mainly Artemesia genepi, Artemesia rupestris, and Artemisia umbelliformis. Those are among the 130 different plants that have been distilled for 400 years (speaking of the history of the production of the liquors, that is, not that the plants have been macerating for that long [although there may be a super-potent version hidden in some forgotten corner]) by the mostly-silent Pères Chartreux, with the first commercial distillery set up in 1737.

I am not sure that there's much Génépi consumed at the monastery, however, because I found it to be quite like tequila in its effect on volubility. I tried to translate the "1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila, floor" joke, which I think made it past the alcohol and language barriers. We were drinking the Génépi at room temperature, though it should have been chilled (although Jean says that makes it dangerously easy to drink). It's very sweet, with an almost unpleasant camphor-medicinal flavor at first, but once the first swallow has made everything seem like summer, the rest goes down rather smoothly.

Tomorrow I will try its more alcoholic brother, the green liquor called Chartreuse verte. The monks also make a walnut eau-de-vie, and a gentian liqueur, and fruit liqueurs from raspberries or blueberries or blackberries or black currants. Or do I mean and? Did any of this make sense? I'm going to bed now.

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