If there’s any liqueur that inspires more intrigue than Green Chartreuse, it may just be its yellow counterpart. While the former stars in classics like the Last Word and Bijou, Yellow Chartreuse has received less attention throughout the herbal liqueur’s centuries-long history. However, this milder and sweeter offering presents a unique charm of its own, and has earned its place in some of history’s great cocktails.
The origins of Chartreuse date to 1605, when the Duke and Marshal of King Henry IV, François-Annibal d’Estrées, found a recipe for a health elixir that he gifted to monks of the Carthusian Order in Voiron, France. The original formula was gradually altered over the next century, and the recipe for Green Chartreuse (Chartreuse Verte) that reportedly remains in use today was codified in 1764. In 1838, a monk named Brother Colomban Mure-Ravaux experimented with a different blend that, two years later, led to the release of Yellow Chartreuse (Chartreuse Jaune)—a milder and lower-proof version of the liqueur.
To make Chartreuse, monks of the Carthusian order macerate a blend of more than 130 botanicals (herbs, spices, roots, barks, and flowers) in either a sugar-beet spirit base (for Green Chartreuse) or a grape spirit base (for Yellow Chartreuse), before aging it in charred French oak barrels. Both bottlings eschew artificial coloring and get their vivid hues from natural sources: chlorophyll for the green variety and saffron for the yellow. To this day, only two monks, along with the father of the order, are entrusted with the secret recipes for Chartreuse. A company called Chartreuse Diffusion was created in 1970 to handle operations like bottling, advertising, and sales.
While both Green and Yellow Chartreuse are very herbaceous, the yellow version has a softer, sweeter profile and shows notes of honey, anise, and saffron. At 43% ABV, it is also lower in alcohol than Green Chartreuse, which has a 55% ABV.
If sipped solo, Yellow Chartreuse is best enjoyed chilled. Unlike many other liqueurs and distilled spirits, Yellow Chartreuse also benefits from aging at room temperature, as its sugar mellows and more nuanced botanical flavors begin to emerge and develop.
When you’re using it in cocktails, you may find that Yellow Chartreuse is slightly more approachable than its supercharged sibling. Like the green version, Yellow Chartreuse often stars in Last Word variations like the Naked & Famous, but its herbal character and honeyed notes play well in a wide range of cocktails.
If you’re lucky enough to have a bottle of Yellow Chartreuse on hand, here are 10 of the best cocktail recipes to help put it to use.
Developed in the early 1900s, this Martini-like cocktail contains equal measures of gin and Yellow Chartreuse, along with a dash of orange bitters. The Chartreuse essentially stands in for vermouth, adding an herbal profile to the classic Martini, which was often made in a 1:1 ratio at the turn of the century. Although the original Alaska recipe called for Old Tom gin, a more juniper-forward London dry gin became favored when it was included in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book.
Naked & Famous
Bar pro Joaquín Simó developed this smoky and herbaceous modern classic when he was working at Death & Co in New York City, combining mezcal, Aperol, Yellow Chartreuse, and lime juice. According to Simó, the equal-parts drink is a cross between a Last Word (gin, Green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, lime juice) and a Paper Plane (bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino Quintessia, lemon juice).
Created at New York City’s Milk & Honey in 2006 by Michael McIlroy, this spirit-forward whiskey drink is a riff on the classic Brooklyn (rye, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, Amer Picon), which is itself a variation on the Manhattan. Named for a North Brooklyn neighborhood, McIlroy’s version combines rye whiskey, Yellow Chartreuse, sweet vermouth, and Angostura and orange bitters.
Gin-adjacent genever has a malty and herb-forward profile that plays with two French liqueurs—Yellow Chartreuse and Benedictine—in this cocktail developed by bartending vet Brian McGregor at Jardinière in San Francisco. Lemon juice adds a touch of acid and brightness.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
This equal-parts rye whiskey drink from Damon Dyer falls somewhere in between a Last Word and a Monte Carlo (rye, Benedictine, Angostura bitters). Its even more herb-forward profile is accentuated by the interplay of Yellow Chartreuse and Benedictine, which are shaken with rye and lemon juice.
This recipe from bartender and distiller Allen Katz calls for a homemade hibiscus tea syrup, which contributes complex floral and tannic notes. He combines the syrup with a split base of pisco and Yellow Chartreuse, brightening his creation with fresh grapefruit juice.
A little Yellow Chartreuse can go a long way. Bartender Tom Macy adds just a teaspoon of the liqueur to this lively and relatively low-proof sparkling wine cocktail that he developed at Clover Club in Brooklyn, New York. The drink features a base of fruit-forward Lillet Rosé aperitif and a half-ounce of fresh grapefruit juice.
Chicago bartender Jon Pizano uses two intensely-flavored liqueurs—the anise-forward digestif Fernet-Branca and Yellow Chartreuse—in this equal-parts drink that bears similarities to the Naked & Famous. He rounds out his creation with demerara syrup and lime juice. “The demerara carries both spirits into a silky smooth jaunt that’s awoken by the bright acidity of the lime juice,” says Pizano.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
Bar pro Alex Day infuses rye whiskey with chamomile tea for this herbaceous and floral drink. The base spirit takes on an even more complex character when shaken with manzanilla sherry, Yellow Chartreuse, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters.
A classic Port Flip contains brandy, tawny port, and egg yolk. For this version, Katz swaps a fruitier ruby port for tawny, upgrades the standard brandy to cognac, and opts for an entire egg and a splash of heavy cream to add body. A barspoon of Yellow Chartreuse brings light herbal sweetness.