Wednesday, December 29, 2010

VOIRON: Munson and the Chartreuse Factory

Please ignore the drug deal in the background

Being at the foot of the Chartreuse mountains, it should be no surprise that Voiron houses the distillery of the Chartreuse liqueur. I won’t bore you all the details of its long history, other than a little to put the following photos in context. The original concoction of 130 herbs reached the Carthusian monks just over 400 years ago and was originally treated as an elixir for long life. In 1764, the liqueur known as Chartreuse was developed and produced near the Grand Monastery. After some some hiccoughs of politics and nature – temporary relocation to Spain, and an Act of God mudslide that destroyed the mountain distillery – the distillery came to downtown Voiron.

The distillery is accompanied by a static exhibition, several films detailing the life and times of Chartreuse (the only liquor to have a colour named after it), and a tour of the facilities.

Munson contemplates Australia  Carthusian Oompa-loompa

The exhibition has a lot of charts tracing herb-usage, monkish alchemy and some rather kitsch dioramas of monks mixin’ it and marketing their elixir. All we needed was a Willy Wonka figure and a child like Violet Beauregarde who could be transmuted into a walking crème de cassis.

Cardinal Richelieu greets me with some lipstick

Carthusian derives from the word Chartreuse, the monastic order having been founded in these mountains in the 11th century. The English name for a Carthusian monastery is Charterhouse.

Above you can see the familiar retort and other apparatus used for distilling, much the same as for Armagnac.

 In case of explosion of liqueurs Mother Theresa - tippler?

2010-12-28 VOIRON -7

We saw a short film on the history of the Carthusian order. Munson couldn’t manage the 3D glasses needed to properly appreciate the film, but I’m not sure what he would have made of the 3D chickens bursting out of the screen, their cackling being enough to make him spin around in the front row position we occupied.

The subsequent tour of the facilities began with a trip to the distilling room, now managed by only two monks. No photos were permitted “for reasons of protecting secrets” – although given that you can find photos of it on Wikipedia and indeed on their own website, this seems more like theatre than necessity.

2010-12-28 VOIRON - 2 Chartreuse museum

The last part of the tour is circling through the long cellar where the Chartreuse products are aged. I say products plural, because a sweeter variant, Yellow Chartreuse with 15% less alcohol, was added in the 19th century. Longer aged versions of both colours are also available.

After ascending from the cellars, I sampled some of the distillery product, which includes not only the two Chartreuses, but some wines and various herbal, floral and berry-based liqueurs. I’m not sure if I’ve actually tried Chartreuse in any of its forms before but quite liked both of the principal versions. I remember getting a bottle of the monk-produced Benedictine for my 21st birthday party. Benedictine is now in private hands as a subsidiary of Bacardi. I was amused to read that they sued some Spanish Benedictine monks – the same ones who produced the platinum-selling Chant album – for copyright infringement.

Aprés tasting - the snow lounge - in front of the distillery

Munson contemplates his new “Hair of the Dog” liqueur. As it happens, one of the possible origins of the name “Munson” is the French “moine” or monk – obviously not one who’s taken silent orders….


  1. Thanks for the interesting tour!

    I can't say I've ever had any Chartreuse but I'm pretty sure I'd like it!

    Great Snow Pic of The Handsome Mallie Boy too!

  2. Sounds like a very cool place! I think it's pawsome that Munson got to visit too!

    Oh, and I LOVE the pic of him in the snow! Where ever Malamute should be!


  3. Just a quick hi to say how much I'm loving your blog at the moment.


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