For the average beer drinker, Chartreuse may not be the first ingredient that comes to mind for a boilermaker. The mysterious French herbal elixir, with its famously secret recipe of over a hundred botanical ingredients guarded by two Carthusian monks, is steeped in lore and beloved by members of the service industry. While cocktail drinkers know and love it in classics such as the Last Word, it’s also, perhaps, one of the most versatile liqueurs for pairing with beer—a perfect foil for heavy, velvety chocolate stouts and bright, tart saisons alike, thanks in part to that aforementioned and staggeringly long ingredients list.
Chartreuse has a distinctive flavor unlike any other herbal liqueur—or any other anything in the world, really—and pinning down exactly what that is can feel like a moving target: Is it caraway? Basil? Eucalyptus? Anise? The answer: Yes, all of the above and a lot more. Much of Chartreuse’s flavor is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, pairing it with beer feels almost like cheating. Whether it’s matched with a yeasty Belgian strong ale or a snappy sour, Chartreuse has a knack for coaxing subtle flavors out of the shadows. In terms of boilermakers, it’s basically a beer whisperer.
“When you think about the fact that Chartreuse has 130 different botanicals in it, you can really pull it in so many different directions,” explains Ria Soler, the West Coast spirits specialist for Frederick Wildman Importers. “You can tease out so many different flavor profiles depending on what you mix with it.”
Soler pairs the straw-hued, milder and lower ABV Yellow Chartreuse with lighter beers, while its more aggressively herbaceous and minty green counterpart tends to hold up well to richer, dessert-like flavors. Speaking of which, now seems like a good time to add that Soler once served Chartreuse root beer floats with vanilla ice cream, in case you want to use it in a literal dessert.
In pairing with beer, Chartreuse’s nuances give bartenders tons of possibilities to play with. Soler recently polled fellow bartenders on Facebook about their favorite Chartreuse and beer discoveries. Dozens of industry pros chimed in with everything from Orval to passionfruit sour to dry cider. One bartender even suggested Red Bull, but maybe try it for yourself and report back. The litany of suggestions just goes to show how versatile this stuff is—it can hang with a heavyweight like Delirium Tremens and also play nice with a Stiegl Radler.
Once the alcoholic Not Your Father’s Root Beer came out, that become a really dangerous but delicious combination to have together.”
This one’s a classic: Root beer’s earthy taste is a perfect match for Chartreuse. It’s also a cherished bartender tradition and go-to shift drink, which Soler says started in San Francisco and has since spread. “Once the alcoholic Not Your Father’s Root Beer came out, that become a really dangerous but delicious combination to have together,” she says. While most boilermaker combinations are enjoyed side-by-side, this is one duo that works especially well as a dropped shot. I.e., dunk your shot glass of Chartreuse straight into your pint glass of root beer and let the magic happen.
IPAs and Pale Ales
One of Soler’s go-to pairings is putting Chartreuse up against a floral or citric IPA. “You'd think it would be kind of harsh with the Chartreuse, but it's actually really delicious,” she says. The sweet, honey lilt of Chartreuse makes for a nice counterbalance to the hoppiness and bitterness in IPAs. It can also draw out the fruit and floral nuances in those types of beers. Micah Melton, beverage director of The Aviary in Chicago, agrees. “Chartreuse has an affinity for pineapple and pine flavors,” he says, and that works especially well with pale ales and IPAs. Melton likes to pair it with the flavor-heavy, hoppy beers from nearby Pipeworks Brewing Co., especially their Passion Fruit Guppy IPA, Mango Guppy IPA, Lil Citra IPA and Lizard King Pale Ale.
Pairing Chartreuse with sweet dessert flavor profiles is a no-brainer, says Soler, especially when chocolate is involved. In this case, you’ll want to stick with green over its milder, golden counterpart. “Green Chartreuse has much more of that herbaceousness and menthol quality that I think pairs really well with chocolate,” Soler says. By the way, this logic extends to hot chocolate, too. On the vanilla side, Soler says she loves pairing Chartreuse with a vanilla-forward cream ale, such as Mother Earth’s Cali Creamin’.
Sours, Goses and Saisons
“Sours are just a layup, because of the slight sweetness in Chartreuse, which is balanced nicely by a nice tart, even salty sour beer,” Melton says. “Generally things that are delicious on their own are delicious together when you compare or contrast.” He’s partial to using Off Color's Troublesome, a funky and tart gose, as well as Evil Twin’s The Perfect Matcha, a Berliner Weissbeir with pineapple and green tea. Brian MacGregor, a San Francisco bar vet and ambassador for the Macallan, loves Avery Brewing’s Liliko'i Kepolo, a tart and tropical passionfruit white ale, with Chartreuse: “The herbaceous and honey of yellow Chartreuse plays really well with tartness of the passionfruit,” he says. MacGregor prefers to enjoy this combo side-by-side, ”But a drop-in might be dope,” he adds.