In 1605, at a Chartreuse monastery of Vauvert, in Paris, the monks received a gift from Marshal d'Estrées, an ancient manuscript talking of an “Elixir”, which no one knows the origin of. In this period, 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 by the monastery's apothecary, Frère Jerome Maubec. He 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. One of the monks of La Grande Chartreuse would load his mule with the small bottles that he sold in Grenoble and Chambéry, and other nearby villages.
So tasty was this elixir that it was often used as a beverage rather than a medicine. Recognizing this, the monks, in 1764, adapted the elixir recipe to make a milder beverage, and which we know today as "Green Chartreuse" (55% alcohol). The success of this liqueur was immediate and its fame was no longer restricted to the area around La Grande Chartreuse. In 1838, the Chartreuse distillers developed a sweeter form of Chartreuse: "Yellow Chartreuse" (43% alcohol)
In 1903, the French government nationalized the Chartreuse distillery. The monks were expelled. The monks took their secret recipe to their refuge in Tarragona, Spain, where they built a new distillery, and began producing their liqueurs with the same label, but with an additional label which said "Liqueur fabriquée à Tarragone par les Pères Chartreux" ("liqueur manufactured in Tarragone by the Carthusian Fathers").
After World War II, the government lifted the expulsion order, making the Carthusian monks once again legal French residents. Since the closure of the distillery of Tarragona in 1989, the liqueur is produced exclusively in Voiron using the herbal mixture prepared by two monks at Grande Chartreuse.
Today, this Elixir is still made only by the Carthusian monks following that ancient recipe, and is called Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse. The selection, crushing and mixing of 130 secret herbs, natural plants and other botanicals used in producing the liqueurs of completely natural colour, is done in the monastery by two monks. This liqueur is aged for several years in huge oak casks and placed into the world's longest liqueur cellar for maturation. Even today the formula remains a mystery which modern investigation methods have not been able to penetrate!
White Chartreuse :
In 1860, Frère Bruno Jacquet creates a new liquor, softer and less expensive. The manufacturing process excludes final colouring step. This new product is named White Chartreuse. As it sells less than yellow or green chartreuses, the Carthusian Monks stop selling it in 1880. The formula is then changed, and it is newly produced and sold from 1886 to 1900, when they finally decide to stop the production.