The recent history of the company and the order reads in an 1886 document, “The secret of Chartres has long been the disappointment of distillers, the way the natural blue painters of the labyrinth have been.” Father Holleran spent five years overseeing the distillation process, ordering materials and planning its production schedule. When he left the site in 1990, he became the only living outsider to know the ancient formula of liqueur.
“It’s safe with me,” he said. “Oddly, they left me when I didn’t sign anything.”
This trade secret is both a marketing coup and a possible catastrophe. “Actually I have no idea what I’m selling this,” a Chartres Diffusion president told The New Yorker in 1984. “I’m always so scared. Only three brothers know how to make it – no one else knows the recipe. And every morning they drive to the distillery together. And they drive a very old car. And they call it Runs very badly. “
Beyond the two monks, who now guard it, all the others – Carthusian or not – know only the pieces of the recipe involved in the production of Chartres.
Inside the Grand Chartres, skilled monks receive 130 unbelted plants and herbs in giant (or, in 2020, QR-coded) sacks. Then, at the distillery, five non-Carthusian employees work with two white-roped monks along with Mackert, Distille, Blend, and Licker. A computerized system also allows them to virtually monitor distillation from the monastery.
With its five-week distilling process, and subsequent years of aging, there are also two monks who taste the product and decide when it is bottled and ready to sell. “They are doing quality control,” said Emanuel Delafon, the current CEO of Chartmanuse Diffusion.
The Order almost exclusively owns the dissemination company, and works with the secular staff of the business, who also overseas the work for the Order’s didactic business.
“It’s their product, and we’re at their service,” Mr. Delafon said. “They need it to maintain their financial independence. They trust us to make connections between monastic life and everything else. “