French Monks Are Driving the Chartreuse Shortage
Dating back to 1605, the closely guarded recipe is becoming increasingly popular
If demand is high, and your product is in short supply, common sense dictates that to maximize your profits, you should either raise the price of your product or start making more of it, then watch the dollars flow in. That is, of course, unless you are a Carthusian monk who isn’t looking to get rich, despite making a highly popular and potentially lucrative liqueur.
Chartreuse, a green or yellow liqueur, is produced only by a group of Carthusian monks in the French Alps. The drink has become increasingly sought after in recent years, particularly since Seattle mixologist Murray Stenson reintroduced the Last Word—a cocktail made of green Chartreuse, gin, maraschino liqueur and lime juice—in the early 2000s.
Now, however, it’s starting to get a little too popular.
Chartreuse is becoming difficult to find, thanks in part to pandemic shortages. Joe Kakos, the owner of a Birmingham, Michigan, liquor store, has carried Chartreuse for four decades but is now having trouble keeping the liqueur in stock. “I literally cannot get it,” he tells Becky Cooper of the New York Times, adding that at least three customers ask for it every day.
Relief isn’t in sight, as the monks have no plans to dial up production, despite high demand. In a letter in January, the monks said they would not produce more than needed to sustain their order, partly for environmental reasons and also because they want to instead focus their time on “solitude and prayer.”
The recipe for Chartreuse—a closely guarded secret dating back to 1605—is said to contain 130 herbs, spices and flowers. It takes about 40 tons of blended ingredients to make a year’s worth of Chartreuse; making more would require harvesting more resources, something the monks worry could harm the planet, says Tim Master, the senior director of spirits at Frederick Wildman and Sons, which is the United States’ only Chartreuse importer, to the Wall Street Journal’s Inti Pacheco. “The goal of the Carthusians is to not plan for three to five years, but plan for 300 to 500 more years.”
While the monks produce over one million bottles per year, Master says that the U.S. will receive fewer shipments than it did in 2021, even as business owners and consumers continue to snap up bottles.
“There’s only so much Chartreuse you can make without ruining the balance of monastic life,” Michael K. Holleran, a former monk who oversaw the liqueur’s production from 1986 to 1990 and is now a priest in New York, tells the Times.
Master similarly notes that the Carthusians are being guided by different principles than traditional businessmen.
“The monks are not in this to drive Mercedes and live a lavish life,” Master tells the Wall Street Journal.