The Order of Chartreuse was more than 500 years old when, in 1605, at a Chartreuse monastery in Vauvert, a small suburb of Paris, the monks received a gift from François Hannibal d’ Estrées, Marshal of French King Henri IV’s artillery: an already ancient manuscript from an “Elixir” soon to be nicknamed “Elixir of Long Life”. This hand-written document was probably the work of a 16th century alchemist with a great knowledge of herbs and who possessed the skill to blend, infuse, macerate the 130 of them to form a perfect balanced tonic. It was this elixir that was destined to become the world-famous Chartreuse liqueur, but it would take more than a century before the alchemist’s recipe to reach a definitive formula.

By the early 17th century, only a few monks and even fewer apothecaries understood the use of herbs and plants in the treatment of illness. The manuscript’s recipe was so complex that only bits and pieces of it were understood and used at Vauvert. Then, at the beginning of the 18th century, the manuscript was sent to the Mother House of the Order—La Grande Chartreuse—in the mountains not far from Grenoble. Here an exhaustive study of the manuscript was undertaken. The Monastery’s Apothecary, Frère Jerome Maubec, finally unraveled the mystery and, in 1737, drew up the practical formula for the preparation of the Elixir.

The distribution and sales of this new medicine were limited at first. One of the monks of La Grande Chartreuse, Frère Charles, would load his mule with the small bottles that he sold in Grenoble and other nearby villages. Ever since, this “Elixir of Long Life” is made only by the Chartreuse monks following that ancient recipe, and is called Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse. This “liqueur of health” is all natural plants, herbs and other botanicals suspended in wine alcohol—69% alcohol by volume, 138 proof.

To maintain the elixir’s historic secrecy, the formula is known only in part and only to three monks so that no single person is in possession of the entire recipe. Today Chartreuse liqueur has become a cult classic.