THE world's oldest distillery well deserves its title, for it has been making the liqueur known as Chartreuse since the jolly Saint Bruno dedicated La Grande Chartreuse to the manufacture of this historic cordial in 1084. For hundreds of years, Chartreuse has issued from this monastic plant, designed as a monastery, and built like one, with its iron-barred windows. In the great building constructed for the monks not employed in the distillery, the cells were lighted only by iron-grated doors and the inmates here lived year after year without seeing the sun, receiving their food through the opening in the grated door and spending the hours in prayer, reading and work. No one, outside of the monks working in the distillery, was allowed within its doors and the priestly workmen themselves did not know how the liqueur was made. The first to discover the secret of making chartreuse from the rare herbs that are found in the Dauphine Alps which separate France from Switzerland was Bruno. How he learned it is not known. Some of the French mountain-eel's may have had crude liqueur stills; but history has no record of the fact. Bruno kept the recipe to himself and mixed the aromatic herbs in the right proportions, in a vault where not even the monks could see him. He alone knew the exact temperature to maintain in the steeping vats, and the different lengths of time needed to extract the essences from the various herbs. The mixing of the liquids was also done exclusively by the saint. None but he could gage the exact proportions to make the perfect blend. When age caused Bruno to give up his duties, his successor was obliged to take an oath that he would tell no one of the secret processes, and that he would perform Bruno's work until compelled to give it up; when he would hand down the recipe to his successor, who would also be oath bound. And so operations continued in the first monastery for nearly six centuries, when the order built another plant near Fourvoirie, the supply of raw material at the original location being exhausted. The new plant was strictly ecclesiastical in architecture and cost nearly 5,000,000 francs—all paid out of income from the sale of chartreuse to the monastic orders in France, for until fifty years ago it was not drank by anyone except the French monks. It was regarded as a sacred beverage, and to sell it outside of the church was sacrilege. The mystery i.i chartreuse making and its peculiar taste were two of the reasons for its popularity, which was so great, once it had come into public use, that it was soon shipped, in kegs, all over Europe, to be bottled and sold by the bottle or glass in the cafes. When the Fourvoirie plant was working to its full capacity the output was 15,000,000 gallons a year. In making the cordial, the monks gathered the dozen different species of herbs which were required to give the right blend. These were first thoroughly dried, in the storehouse, being spread out on the floor, and exposed to air currents. The different herbs were then placed in spring water in separate vats, which were heated by wood fires—this for extracting the juice. The tanks were covered and the steeping process occupied about twenty-four hours, when the juice was drained off through pipes in the lower parts of the cooling vats. Next the liquid was distilled, the process being quite similar to the distillation of whiskey. EXCEPTIONAL OPPORTUNITY TO VISIT South America and Panama Canal 20,000 Mile Cruise, leaving New York Jan. 20, 1312 By S. S. BLUECHER, (12,500 tons) Calling at Port of Spain, Pernambuco, Santos, Buenos Aires (Across the Andes), Punta Arenas (through the Straits of Magellan), Valparaiso, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Para, Bridgetown, an d a visit to the Panama Canal. 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At least, he found that stationers and office supply dealers sold more American ribbons than they did of his, even though his ribbons were cheaper. ” There must be some reason,” said Schulz, “why Germans are willing to pay more for American ribbons. I must find out why." Did he engage a chemist ? Did he snoop around in American ribbon factories, trying to find out how ribbons are made in America ? Did he bribe workmen to reveal a precious trade secret ? No. Schulz simply sent a few American ribbons and some of his own ribbons to the Koenigliches Material-Pruefungsamt - the Royal Laboratory for Testing Materials. r.n a few weeks he received a report in which he was told that the life of an American ribbon was twice as long as his own, that the fabric of the American ribbon was composed of this and that material and had a tensile strength three times as great as Schulz's, that the ink of the American ribbon was composed of such and such chemicals and pigments, with the result that its record was legible for a longer time and absolutely light-proof. This is the kind of work that the Koenigliches Material-Pruefungsamt does for any German manufacturer. It gives. expert information to him who is entitled to it, and at a price that doesn't begin to pay for the elaborate scientific investigation involved. Whether it be a girder for a bridge, or a button for milady's shoe, that public laboratory tests anything, and tells the German what he must do to make it better and cheaper, if possible. In the next number of the Scientific American we will publish an article by Mr. Waldemar Kaempffert, Managing Editor of the Scientific American, on this remarkable institution. We sent Mr. Kaempffert to Europe in order to study the part that science plays in German business and public affairs. His article on the Koenigliches Material-Pruefangsamt will be the first of a series in which new phases of German science and commerce and education will be revealed. After you have read the series you will feel that “Made in Germany” means a good deal more than mere cheapness; that there may be far more science in the cheap German penknife bought on the street comer than you may suspect ; that science, and not simply cheap labor, has made Germany a great commercial nation, and the German city the best-governed municipality in the world. Watch the Scientific American advertising pages for announcements of the articles still to appear. Then came the blending of the different extracts into the secret composition that has given chartreuse the flavor and the exhilarating effect which has made it famous. This, the most delicate process, was supervised by the director; and before it was performed, mass was observed to sanctify the product. It is not generally known that three forms of the liqueur were manufactured i at the chartreuse establishment; the green and- the yellow chartreuse all know, but there is a much weaker extract, the white chartreuse, which was drunk with water by all the employees of the monastery, and was given to the stranger who accepted the hospitality of La Grande Chartreuse for a meal. Until seven years ago the Carthusians kept up their industry. They also worked farms; built schools and churches for the peasants; and laid out some of the finest roadways in Europe. In 1904 the French government seized their property, forced out the Carthusians and since then have been making the liqueur—but it is merely a poor imitation of the brew prepared by the monks.
This article was originally published with the title "The World's Oldest Liqueur Distillery" in Scientific American 105, 26, 577 (December 1911)