Monday, June 13, 2011

The Last Word, and Variants

Perhaps my favorite cocktail is the Last Word. It was one of the first real cocktails I made. After watching the sublime documentary, Into Great Silence, about the Carthusian monks, I purchased a bottle of the intriguing Green Chartreuse (which has it's own great story, but that's another post). Needing something to do with it, I made a Last Word, and the rest is history.

Well, a brief history, anyway. You see, I first tasted this cocktail, unbeknownst to me at the time, at the very moment of the beginning of its resurgence into the cocktail world. You've only been able to find a Last Word in cocktail bars for the last six to seven years or so. I don't mean to imply that it's a young drink; the Last Word was first mixed sometime during prohibition, most likely at the Detroit Athletic Club. It vanished for years until Ted Saucier somehow came across the recipe and wrote it down in his book, Bottom's Up, in 1951, saying,
Courtesy, Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit
This cocktail was introduced around here about thirty years ago by Frank Fogarty, who was very well known in vaudeville. He was called the 'Dublin Minstrel,' and was a very fine monologue artist.
Then, however, it disappeared again. As far as I know, there are no other mentions of it in print until the 2000s. Luckily for us, Murray Stenson, bartender at the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle, found the recipe in Saucier's old book one night in 2004. It went on the menu, and it spread across the cocktail world, through word of mouth as well as through internet discussions such as the ones over at eGullet. These days, it can be found at nearly any craft cocktail bar. And thank god for that.

The Last Word is glorious libation. It sits beautifully green in the glass. The unlikely pairing of maraschino and Chartreuse is wonderfully complex, by turns nutty, vegetal, spicy and sweet. It plays off the sour lime and light botanicals of the gin, and the flavor profile evolves as it moves across your mouth. Amazingly, the cocktail is ever so simple to make:

The Last Word
  • 3/4 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino
  • 3/4 oz Green Chartreuse
  • 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice

Shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

You want to use a gin that is somewhat floral and with a hint of sweetness. What I mean to say is that London dry isn't bad, but it certainly isn't the best. Plymouth is a personal favorite, and many of the American gins work well, too. I often use New Amsterdam when I want to save some money, and even it works very well.

Perhaps as amazing as the drink's flavor is its adaptability. Variations of the drink are exceptionally easy to implement; the basic formula works with many other base spirits. The citrus can be changed. Lemon works well with the brown spirits, and, supposedly, even yuzu is excellent. Many recipes exist for such variations (see Douglas Ford's take here or the attempts of the eGullet community here), but it's just as easy to play with by yourself. As an example, here's a variation I made recently, substituting Yellow Chartreuse for the Green, and akavit for the gin. It's a bit sweeter, lighter, and more on the refreshing side.

Sidste Ord
  • 3/4 oz Akavit (I used Aalborg)
  • 3/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino
  • 3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
  • 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
Shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

The Last Word embodies what I love about cocktails. It is a simple beverage to create perfectly, but it's flavor profile is richly rewarding. History suffuses it, both in the classic, storied liqueurs with which it is made and in its own history, having been created in the dark night that was Prohibition, only to be forgotten for decades before its revival. It's a drink that can teach you the joys of cocktails.

No comments:

Post a Comment