The story of Chartreuse

How a drink can become tradition

Chartreuse, a strong liquor.

It is widely known that long time ago monks were popular for providing tasty and natural strong alcoholic drinks. The reason could have been: boredom, cold weather or lack of woman, however, results used to be fantastic.

The story of this drink goes back to 1605 when a man named François-Annibal d’Estrées transferred what he believed was the “elixir of long life”, a formula that combined 130 herbs, plants and flowers plus some unknown ingredients mixed in a wine alcohol base.

“Francois Annibal d-Estrees” by Jean-Baptiste Paulin Guérin — Unknown. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

That initial formula was delivered to the religious order headquarter of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French alps. Immediately that recipe was converted into a drink named “Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse” becoming very popular.

In 1764 after a mass success of the drink, monks start producing what nowadays is known and distributed as Green Chartreuse, the stronger version available with 110 proof or 55%. Unfortunately, in 1793 those monks were expelled from France and the production of the drink ceased until several years later. On the comeback, they start producing the most popular version of Chartreuse, the Yellow Chartreuse (80 proof or 40%). However, the adventures of those monks were not over, later, in 1903 they are expelled and all its properties confiscated by the French government. The monks manage to escape with the secret recipe to their refuge in Tarragona, Catalonia, and began producing their liqueurs, but with an additional label which said Liqueur fabriquée à Tarragone par les Pères Chartreux (“liquor manufactured in Tarragona by the Carthusian Fathers”).

At the same time a french corporation in Voiron (France) tried to replicate the recipe but failed on the process. The company went bankruptcy and the remaining shares were sent to the monks in Tarragona as a gift.

“Chartreuse Caves" by David Monniaux. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, after the Second World War the monks are allowed to return to France. The production was hold in Tarragona until 1989. After that date, the monks took the remaining of the Voiron distillery and used the place to produce the liquor. Nowadays, only two monks know the exact recipe of Chartreuse which is kept in secret.

During this process the monks stayed more than 50 years distilling the liquor in Tarragona. The old factory is now place for teaching and learning hosting a School, but the city remembers with great affection those monks and the beverage they brought.

Public advertisement from 1972. Tarragona public historic records.

Since then, every year people celebrates Santa Tecla Festival from 14th to 24th of September alongside with Chartreuse. During ten days the city becomes overwhelmed by traditional festivities, dances and heritage alongside with the most popular drink: Mamadeta.

Mamadeta is a drink that combines yellow and green chartreuse along with lemon smoothie. Served in a cold plastic pod that people carries it has become a must try beverage served only during the 10-day popular festival.


Nowadays, Tarragona is one of the few cities that can feel proud of hosting such a tradition for a drink, similar to Whiskey for Scottish, Chartreuse for Tarragona citizens has become a source of pride and history provided by some French visitors that came back in 1903.

Thank you Chartusian Monks for giving us something we can display as ours, we will keep this alive.

Baixada de l’Àliga, 2013. Source:
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