If you’ve gone looking for a bottle of Chartreuse at your favorite liquor store lately, you’ve probably found an empty spot on the shelf where this specialty spirit is supposed to be. That’s because there is currently a worldwide paucity, and it’s causing cocktail bars and restaurants to rethink and rejigger their cocktail menus in a big way.
Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur that’s been made for centuries by a special order of French monks who gleaned the recipe in 1605 while decoding an ancient manuscript on what was called “The Elixir of Long Life.” The traditional version, which is bright green, is made in the French Alps from a secret blend of 130 different botanicals by the Carthusian order of monks. They are the only ones with the recipe. And they are the only ones who make it. The Chartreuse market is, in effect, a monk-opoly.
For the past two hundred years or so, the worldwide demand for Chartreuse has been fairly steady. For a long time, it was largely considered a “niche” or “curiosity” spirit that was mostly used as a background ingredient in old-style cocktails. But recently—in the past ten to twenty years or so—this floral, herbaceous, aromatic liqueur has seen a boom in popularity. Everything old is new again, and hip mixologists and bartenders have enjoyed the curiosity factor in introducing their patrons to what seems like a “new” kind of spirit. And patrons have responded positively to the elevated level of herbal and floral complexity that Chartreuse provides, as well as the unique aroma it adds to any cocktail. According to market data collector Chartreuse Diffusion, sales of the liquor doubled in 2020 and reached $30 million globally in 2022.
Its increased usage at bars has also meant greater demand from cocktail lovers who want a bottle of Chartreuse for their home bar. So here’s the problem with this huge uptick in demand for Chartreuse: The monks don’t want to make more than they have been making, rising demand be damned (though the monks probably don’t put it that way). Evidently, in 2019, the monks voted to cap their production for various reasons, including their desire to limit the environmental impact (the spirit is very herb-and-flower intensive) and to focus more on what monks usually do, which is sit in solitude and pray. The result? A worldwide Chartreuse shortage.
For the foreseeable future, annual production will be capped at 1.6 million bottles, which is the highest level since the 1800s. Big-customer countries like the United States will hereby be limited to 90% of their 2021 volume. That lack of supply means lots of bars and retailers are feeling the squeeze.
Is there a silver lining in all this? Well, if you’re trying to sell Batch 22 New American Aquavit to bars, there is. While it’s not exactly the same, Batch 22 does share an herbal and floral profile similar to Chartreuse, and we’ve had some notable success substituting it in some classic Chartreuse-centric cocktails. Here’s our recipe for our riff on the Bijou, which traditionally combines gin, vermouth, and Chartreuse. Using Batch 22 instead renders a cocktail that’s a bit more subtle and elegant but every bit as satisfying. No monks required.
Combine in a mixing glass with ice:
§ 1 oz London dry gin
§ 1 oz sweet vermouth
§ 1 oz Batch 22
§ 3 dashes of orange bitters
Stir for 20 seconds to chill well and strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or orange wheel.