Nestled high in France’s Chartreuse Mountains, the Grande Chartreuse monastery is home to a cloister of Catholic monks.
Adherents of the Carthusian order avoid contact with the outside world, the better to focus on contemplation and prayer.
But this other-worldly setting is the birthplace of a very worldly product, Chartreuse – a strong alcoholic liqueur made from a recipe said to have been given to the Carthusians in 1605.
The monks of Grande Chartreuse are not alone in these sorts of endeavours.
Religious orders have long produced alcohol (think beer from Trappist monks or tonic wine from Buckfast Abbey) for economic and medicinal reasons.
And some of these products have never been so popular. In an era when the provenance of food and drink is increasingly important, a drink with such distinctive roots carries a certain prestige.
The Chartreuse brand sold 1.5 million bottles worldwide in 2015, selling for about €50 (£44) a bottle, and with all profits going to support the order and its charity projects.
Chartreuse is made from 130 plants, herbs and flowers. But the recipe is tightly controlled, with most of the monks kept in the dark about the exact ingredients and the ageing process of the drink.
Just three monks make the plant mixture, which is delivered to the distillery in plain packaging so the ingredients cannot be identified by employees from outside the monastery who help with production.
Monastery guide Mathilde Perrin says that outsiders “know really very little about the production”. Since the operation is owned by the monks, they “do what they want and they’re not obliged to tell anyone what they’re doing,” she says.
Based at Voiron, a village near Grenoble, the distillery is about 15 miles from the monastery at Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse.
The first distillery, built in 1840, was at the monastery itself. But as production expanded, the noise and commotion disturbed the monks’ contemplative way of life.
The operation moved to several sites over subsequent decades, and will move again in 2018.
Due to the amount of alcohol vapour, the distillery was deemed a safety hazard, and so will relocate to a more remote site.
“The government calculated that if something exploded, we would be capable of blowing up all of Voiron,” says Ms Perrin.
Although a handful of people work at the distillery, the monks control the operation remotely from the monastery, using computers to adjust temperatures during production and even shut down the process if necessary.