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Most people know chartreuse as a characteristically bright green color. When you are into mixology, however, Chartreuse isn’t merely a color but a pungent and flavorful liqueur. Chartreuse may not be an everyday ingredient in your cocktails at home, but you may stumble upon a recipe that requires it and wonder, “Is it worth buying a bottle of Chartreuse? Could I use a Chartreuse substitute?”
The answer is yes, there are substitutes for Chartreuse available. Grab a notepad, because you are going to want to write some of these down!
What is Chartreuse?
Chartreuse is a truly special liqueur that has been around for centuries. It is also the only liqueur in the world with a naturally vibrant green color. In 1737, French monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in Grenoble started selling Chartreuse, a medicinal liqueur that used a mixture of 130 herbs and plants to craft this liqueur.
There are three kinds of Chartreuse available on the market:
- Green Chartreuse: Otherwise known as Chartreuse Verte, this is the most common form of the liqueur. Chartreuse is available at 55% ABV or 110 proof per bottle. This high amount of alcohol is intensified by the presence of floral and herbal flavors that come from thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, and other ingredients.
- Yellow Chartreuse: Also called Chartreuse Jaune, this is a lighter variant that contains only 40% ABV or 80 proof. Yellow Chartreuse is a little more rare and contains sweeter notes, such as licorice and anise, citrus, and honey.
- Chartreuse V.E.P.: The V.E.P. stands for Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolonge, which means “Exceptionally Prolonged Aging,” and contains both green and yellow Chartreuse. Aged for much longer than standard Chartreuse, the V.E.P. variety comes in a wooden box with a wax seal around the cork. Aging produces a much more mellow flavor and smoother texture. Because of that, the price is often 3 times more than standard Chartreuse.
What is Chartreuse Made From?
Originally intended as medicine, Chartreuse was refined from a recipe written in 1605. It was released to the public in 1737, as mentioned earlier. However, the alcohol was a bit too strong for their customers, so they refined the recipe further. In 1764, the modern version of Chartreuse was released.
Interestingly, Napoleon’s revolutionary forces almost exposed the secret of Chartreuse when they unearthed the ancient manuscript. However, the manuscript was returned to the Carthusian monks in 1816. They then decided to make yellow Chartreuse and released it in 1838.
The secret to what goes into Chartreuse has been well-kept. What is known is that the 130 plants and herbs (such as lemon, sage, bay, saffron, anise, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg) are gathered from the French Alps. The highest quality herbs are selected for the alcohol. After being macerated with alcohol, the mixture is distilled and put inside oak casks. The liquor then ages for 5 years.
An outside company bottles and packages Chartreuse for global consumption. Most of the profits are returned to the monastery, which is still in operation, and helps fund the religious (and boozy) practices.
Check out this video on Chartreuse cocktails to inspire you:
What Are Some Green Chartreuse Substitutes?
Chartreuse is difficult to replicate, so there is no one-to-one substitute for it. However, there are similar liqueurs in existence that can match some of the flavors you are looking for:
Also crafted in the French Alps, Genepi is the closest liqueur to Chartreuse. The light olive color is similar to Yellow Chartreuse, but the flavor is similar to the green variety. Genepi is very complex—it is minty, sweet, citrusy and herbaceous. You may find that it also reminds you of absinthe but without the bitterness. The only thing that is missing from Genepi is the anise or licorice flavor.
Derived from herbs like grand wormwood, anise, fennel, and a host of culinary herbs, Absinthe is a nearly spot-on replacement for Chartreuse. Plus, absinthe has a bright green coloring like Green Chartreuse. The only downside is that absinthe is so strong it can be hallucinogenic and must be diluted prior to use. Otherwise, it might be too bitter and boozy to mix with other alcohols.
This colorless, anise-flavored Italian liqueur is another great Green Chartreuse substitute. Although often served neat, you can also mix Sambuca with fruity flavored drinks, creamy cocktails, and boozy coffee. There are also notes of pineapple, mint, coconut, and figs in Sambuca that balance out the anise/licorice.
Keep in mind that you should use white Sambuca only as a substitute for Chartreuse. Black Sambuca has a different flavor profile and does not match the herbaceous notes of Chartreuse.
Yes, Drambuie can be used as a substitute for Green Chartreuse, especially if you are looking for something smoother and less spicy. The exact number of spices and herbs used in Drambuie is a mystery (a recurring theme), and any attempts at replicating Drambuie has resulted in less-than-perfect matches. However, it is believed that, aside from the Scotch whisky base, honey, malts, and citrus notes, that anise, lemon zest, rosemary, and angelica root are used.
You can drink Drambuie straight, mixed with ginger beer, over ice, or mixed into coffee. It also pairs nicely with whiskeys, brandy, and tequila.
Here is a liqueur you may have never heard about—Fernet Branca. The flavor of this herb liqueur is so bitter and full of black licorice that it is an acquired taste. Fernet Branca also has a cult following in Argentina, where they stir this bitter liqueur into cola. Fernet Branca works as a Chartreuse substitute when you want the licorice tones to stand out in the cocktail. It is also a reasonably priced alternative.
Fernet Branca pairs well with gin, whisky sour mix, lime, and other Italian amaro, or bitters.
What About Yellow Chartreuse Substitutes?
Due to the sweetness of Yellow Chartreuse, it is a bit easier to find a substitute for it. Here are some options:
Looking for an option that is cheaper than Yellow Chartreuse but is also a near flavor match? Try Strega, once called “witches liqueur”. The liqueur has a minty finish and a touch of bitterness that rounds out cocktails well. Additionally, Strega has about 70 botanical ingredients that are similar to Chartreuse, such as mint, saffron, and juniper berries.
Strega, like Yellow Chartreuse, has an ABV of 40% (80 proof).
Often confused for Drambuie, Glayva is also a Scottish liqueur with a Scotch whisky background. It is sweetened with spices, herbs, and honey, but it is a much softer liqueur than Drambuie. That is why Glayva can be used to mimic the lighter tones of Yellow Chartreuse. With Glayva, you get delightful hints of tangerine and floral notes that are more akin to a whisky than an herbal liqueur.
Using Glayva as a Chartreuse substitute is bound to make for some enticing flavor combinations, so get creative!
Ah, one of the more misunderstood liqueurs on this list. Jagermeister has gone from the drink of choice at college frat parties to a more refined ingredient for cocktails these days. Concocted from a top secret recipe in 1934, Jagermeister is an excellent choice for a flavorful liqueur.
Interestingly, Jägermeister is a digestif, a kind of liqueur designed to assist with digestion. It’s also vegan and has 35% ABV. Jägermeister contains 56 ingredients, such as poppy seeds, saffron, star anise, and juniper berries. However, the official list of ingredients is not available to the public, because—you know—it’s top secret.
In short, Jägermeister is very similar to Green and Yellow Chartreuse. You can feel confident with using it as a substitute.
A favorite liqueur for flavoring pastries, cream buns, and Yule logs at Christmastime, Grand Marnier is a decent substitute for Yellow Chartreuse. You can mix Grand Marnier with cranberry juice, for example, for a refreshing beverage. Optionally, you can drizzle some of this liqueur over vanilla ice cream. Since Grand Marnier is predominantly citrus and vanilla flavor, it is not a true match; but it does work well when a recipe calls for Yellow Chartreuse.
No Chartreuse? No Worries
While there may be no exact substitute for Chartreuse, there are plenty of liqueurs out there that mirror the unique flavor. Chartreuse is herbaceous, floral, and bitter all at once, so depending on the kind of drink you are making, you can choose a Chartreuse substitute that enhances the flavor you want. Some of the best substitutes are Genepi, Drambuie, and Jagermeister for that reason.
Which one are you going to try first?