The problem with attempting to cover a big and boozy adventure in somewhat real time is the big booziness of the adventure: by the time you get back to the hotel, passing out is a higher priority than blogging and tweeting.
On Day Four we left the Cote d' Azur for Voiron, where we had a date with the monks. Actually, the monks don't really get involved with the tourists, as they are committed to their monkly duties of worship, contemplation, and mercifully, distillation. The monks themselves reside in the mountains outside of Grenoble, as they have for centuries, at the the Grande Chartreuse monastery. The distillery is located in the nearby town of Voiron.
So how do monks get in the booze business? Actually Monks have been in the booze business, making mead and wine and beer, since as long as there have been monks. But the Carthusian monks specifically began distilling local herbs and other botanicals for their purported health-giving properties. According to alchemical legend, the monks were presented with an elixir of long life, which eventually they refined in to the product they now make as "Elixir Vegetal." The Elixir is not available in the US, but has a loyal following in Europe as a digestif. The Elixir was elongated and sweetened and eventually evolved into the Chartreuse liqueur we see today.
Supposedly only two monks at a time know the entire recipe of 130+ secret herbs and spices that go into the spirit. The herb room is located at the monastery, where the monks weigh and blend them before they are taken into town for distillation. When we were in the distillation room, we saw one of the hooded figures going about his work, but no photos are allowed inside the still room.
The Chartreuse cellars are apparently the longest in the world. The aging casks, as you can see, are taller than a person (save for a few NBA players, none of whom were present on this trip)
Whenever you've got a good thing going on, imitations are a fore-drawn conclusion. In the distillery museum there is a substantial collection of Chartreuse knock-offs from across time and around the world.
One of the exciting things about visiting the Chartreuse distillery was the tasting room--of course the green & yellow Chartreuse in their regular and VEP form, but also a number of variations such as the 1605 (a less-sweet Green, amped up with Elixir); the Centenaire edition, and a yellow variation that was blended by a group of France's top sommeliers. Of course I had to bring one of each of these home. The Chartreuse distillery, as I would learn, also makes a number of fruit and herbal or floral liqueurs that are limited to local distribution. Lots of pictures at our FB page.