At the Cloak Bar, Chartreuse is just the thing for spring
The revival of traditional herbal spirits has paved the way for a Chartreuse comeback
Inventive bartenders are on to something that Québécois grand-mères have always known: Chartreuse is an excellent sipper. Created in 1737 by Carthusian monks at a monastery in the Chartreuse Mountains near Grenoble, it is made of distilled alcohol aged with a top-secret formula of 130 herbs and flowers. Today it’s produced solely at a monk-run distillery in the nearby town of Voiron. The industrious brothers make two types: the piney green is more popular and more potent; the yellow, which gets its colour from saffron, has gentler flavours and aromas. Both varieties are available at the LCBO and continue to evolve in the bottle, much like wine. The monks also make the beautiful liqueur eau de noix (green walnuts macerated in brandy), which is occasionally available in Ontario.
You can sample the eau de noix at the Cloak Bar, the beautifully appointed new speakeasy in the basement of King West’s Marben restaurant, where bartender Tao Zrafi mixes old-timey cocktails inspired by recipes from the 17th and 18th centuries. His menu includes modern updates on milk punches, obscure liqueurs like crème de thé and a whackload of gin cocktails. But he’s especially keen on the swizzle, an icy drink originating in the Caribbean, that’s typically made with rum, lime juice and the lime-and-clove syrup called falernum. Zrafi swaps the rum for green Chartreuse (he’s a devout member of the small but fervent Chartreuse fan club)—it gives the drink a herbaceous hum. Pebble ice, which looks just as it sounds, is the key to keeping the drink cold and flavourful—it melts more slowly than crushed ice, so it tames the liquor without diluting it too much. The bright, colourful cocktail is just the thing to herald the spring weather.