Chartreuse, the apple of mine eye
If Chartreuse was a dude, he would be youthful and innocent. And yummy. His hair would smell of the wild vibrance of a day in the mountains, close to the Alps. Despite his naivety, he would have a sense of tradition, and seem older than his years. His biggest flaw is that he knows he’s so damn good looking. He definitely has a hint of narcissism. He skin emits a faint glow of pale ephemeral apple green. If your following me, Chartreuse is the Dorian Gray of fine spirits. The name of this iconic French herbal liquor has also become synonymous with that addictively fresh hue, It’s first indication that it’s got something goin’ on.
This intensely herbal licoricey bright green bevy had me at first sip. A love affair of sorts. As with any affair, there is an element of sweet danger, and at 110 proof, I’ve learned to tread carefully. I do prefer it neat, and it has never failed to put a smile on my face. Id like to think that Chartreuse and I get along due in part to our joint heritage, harkening back to the French country side. Yea, in the cobwebs of my family tree, I’ve got roots back in that beautiful country that champions the ideals of liberty and art.
I was lucky enough to tour around the area of Grenoble, France for a bit, 2 years ago. As my new German friends maneuvered their sensible little car around the small country roads, I remember going by a sign for the town of Grande Chartreuse. I so regret not insisting on visiting this place. I can share with you however what the little villages around my future retirement home (girls gotta dream) look like:
When I got back from France, I was full of ideas and entranced with the feeling of discovering something new, something that touched me so deeply. Armed with my sketches, I was going to paint the objects of the Louvre having a tea party. I was going to paint with the colors and brilliance of the works I saw at the Musee D’Art Moderne in Paris. But back in the US, my vibrancy and energy dissipated as the daily grind sunk its teeth into me. I do want to share the airbrush piece I played with, which is based on this little village in the South of France.
But back to Chartreuse. In its current incantations it is produced in 2 forms: green, which is powerful and herbaceously pronounced; all the envy of its sister, Yellow Chartreuse, which is sweeter and more delicate. If you couldn’t tell, I prefer the green. It is perhaps best known in the signature drink The Last Word.
Last night, however, I had the pleasure of meeting Yellow Chartreuse in such a perfectly balanced drink that I had to let you Chicagoans know about it ASAP.
The Setting: The Charlatan, a newish Italian restaurant on Chicago Ave in Noble Square. CHECK IT OUT. EVERYTHING WAS GOOD. 2 words: Fresh pasta. Ok. A few more words. The owners also bring us Three Aces in Little Italy, if you needed further convincing. The place is legit.
The Drink: Dont Look Down.
Bow down to the mixology god who came up with this one. It starts with a base of Altos Blanco tequila, followed with Yellow Chartreuse, roast lemon for acidity, and finished with a sweet maguey sap (fancy agave nectar) and a dash of cinnamon.
I love the simple foundation of this drink. It’s not a new idea, but you can’t go wrong pairing a tequila with an agave based sweetener, both ingredients stemming from the same plant. Add a nice citrus and you have the basics of a tequila centered drink. From here, we could take it to margarita-ville. Or as The Charlatan demonstrates so beautifully, you add spin. The roasting of the lemon plays the tequila like a fiddle, adding a subtle layer of char. The Yellow Chartreuse blends seamlessly into the cocktail, not overpowering the flowery silky agave, but adding a sheer layer of clove, anise, and tarragon. Spice it up with a touch of warm cinnamon and now, Don’t Look Down, you have a place in my heart forever.
The Short: this drink is light and smooth, subtly sweet with a hint of bitterness. P.S you gotta respect a drink that doesn’t need a garnish squeeze to pep it up. Props.