People say Chartreuse to be very healthy, full of medicinal properties and to lengthen the life of anyone who drinks it… The only truth is that people loves it because they have a sweet tooth. In Tarragona, where there used to be one of the above-mentioned liquor’s factory until 1989, its consumption is massive and worth mentioning: a real blessing for the Carthusian monks and their secular business, which gets exuberant orders for the local festivity. ‘Tarragonins’ have turned Chartreuse into their own magic potion. And it’s not that this beverage makes people any stronger, wiser or more beautiful; it just makes anyone who likes it happier. Just like Eduard Seriol and his suggestive yellow and green liquor collection; all very old, all made in Tarragona, all kept in a storehouse.
When he was younger, Chartreuse was a decorative drink in his house, just like ‘Aromes de Montserrat’. There would always be some, not an empty bottle. Things evolved in the 80’s, and specially when the doors of the emblematic distillery, once opened by the native to France Carthusian monks in the Part Baixa on the early 20th century, shut for good. Suddenly, the city, which was in the middle of a social revolution thanks to the recovery of popular festivities, was left without the unique and distinctive liquor, which showed the world the name Tarragona in its label.
In fact, even though you can still ask for a ‘Tarragone’ in some cafés in France and get a glass of Chartreuse, all the liquor is distilled these days in Voiron, near Grenoble. Three monks of the so-called ‘Grande Chartreuse’ manage to keep its formula –a mix of distilled wine aromatized with over 130 different herbs– as secret as the Coke’s. On the other hand, it is now, 25 years after Tarragona’s factory was shut, that the Carthusian’s liquor consumption has shot up in the city. Such success is, partly, thanks to the ‘mamadeta’: a yellow&green Chartreuse cocktail with lemon slush conceived 20 years ago so that people taking part in Santa Tecla’s entourage can refresh themselves, which has become as popular as the ‘Amparito’ (Santa Tecla’s Paso Doble).
Eduard points it out: ‘No Chartreuse, no party’. Although he’d rather have it on its own: the older, the better. He has over 300 bottles at home, which is enough alcohol to burn the Part Alta and beyond. All of which, or the great majority, are from Tarragona, being the oldest from 1910; a friend found it in a drawer and gave it to him. One of these, he says, can raise up to 30,000 euros in an auction.
Among experts, Chartreuse from Tarragona has a different taste and flavour from the one made in Voiron. It could be due the herbs, the humidity, the sea… no one can really tell. It is, as well, a proof of a Tarragona that belongs to the past, which evolved thanks to the production of wines and liquors for most part of the 20th century.
The thing is that collectors and pleasure-seekers can pay its weight in gold these days. Only people like Eduard Seriol, who overstocked it, can really afford to keep drinking it with some friends on important occasions and when time permits. “People buy and give stuff for Christmas. I give Chartreuse”, explains Eduard, renowned pastry chef in ‘Rabassó’.
Less than a month after the monks had gone back to France, Eduard Seriol was already seeking around Tarragona to get as much liquor as he could; mainly corked, guarantee of its old age. He bought a lot of it for some time. Internet eased the whole process to him, as a consumer-collector, but also to other alcohol relics sellers and buyers. Now though, he says, everyone has gone mad for this, and besides VEP –Chartreuse aged in oak by the very same makers–, fetishism and speculation have made its prices go through the roof; a no-no for everyone.
In fact, everything related to the old Chartreuse in the city has a market. Not so long ago, the theoretical factory steel keys were sold for 100,000 euros. Wow. The emblematic façade’s mechanical clock was also gone in 2005. The building, under an intense degradation for the years it remained closed, has been recently reopened as the Official Language School building. The city keeps and celebrates its memory. There is always a good reason to drink a toast with Chartreuse.