Our journey through the classic cocktail canon is an endeavor that gives more than it asks of us. While doing some background on this week’s cocktail, I began contemplating how blessed we are to have this medium to communicate and highlight culturally significant happenings. In a strange way, cocktails of the past seem to have acted as transmitters of culture and customs from one place to another. Ergo, cocktails were the original memes.
“The Last Word” is a send up of a gin sour style drink made with two legendary liqueurs that we will revisit often in our time together-Maraschino Liqueur and Chartreuse. Its origins are all examples of innovation. The Detroit Athletic Club came about in the Early Gilded age a luxurious Palazzo style amateur sports club…with a beautiful bar in it. So much for exercise. A Vaudeville superstar named Frank Fogarty (one of the world’s first standup comics), was so taken with the drink that he brought the recipe back to New York with him and began requesting it at hotel bars. The drink apparently “went viral” and was listed in the 1951 adult beverage classic Bottoms Up by Ted Saucier.
Sours fell out of favor in the 1960’s replaced by all manner of martinis as far as gin is concerned. After that, the 70’s and 80’s are bereft of classic cocktailing. The drink all but disappeared until Murray Stenson put it on a menu at the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle. Mr. Stenson became one of the internet’s early self taught classic cocktail experts and mentors, and many of his disciples have ensured that “The Last Word” will be able to speak forever in the hearts and minds of thoughtful bartenders. It’s one of those classics that is reasonably easy to prepare and gives a novice cocktail aficionado a glimpse into the magic and nuance that a few balanced ingredients can produce:
Chartreuse Verte (Green)
How impactful a spirit must be to have its name used as a color. This herbal liqueur is based on a mix of 130 different botanicals. A French Noble bequeathed a secret recipe for “long life elixir” to Carthusian monks in the 17th century. It is one example of alcoholic beverages produced by monasteries to help fund them and keep them thriving. The flavor is intensely herbal and vegetal with hints of anise, lime leaf . Throughout its history, it has been consumed primarily as a digestif, but Mr. Stenson’s rediscovery of this cocktail has rendered it a most necessary ingredient in the brave new world of thoughtful cocktailing. There are about five different iterations of Chartreuse available for purchase, but the classic Verte is the best place to start. There is a connection between monasteries and production of some amazing alcoholic beverages, and this might be my favorite.
Another wonderfully curious spirit, this interesting liqueur throws the first time drinker for a loop as its crystal clear and doesnt taste much of cherries. Think of this as next level liquor-it’s distilled from cherries (but not infused with them) and aged in ash-wood vats so the flavor is not from a fruity additive. It displays as nutty with some hints of cacao and dried fruits. The nose is slightly minerally and the finish is less sweet than one would imagine. It made its way from Italian upper crust to British nobility as the favorite digestif of the Prince Regent in the 19th century. Luxardo currently makes the most ubiquitous version and most cocktail recipes refer to this brand. Although quite esoteric and niche, this is another indispensable bottle.
Tools and Technique
You will need: Boston Shaker, Hawthorne Strainer, Tea Strainer, Coupe Glass
In the small end of your Boston Shaker, add the following
.75 ounces lime juice
.75 ounces Maraschino liqueur
.75 ounces Chartreuse Verte
.75 Ounces Highclere Castle Gin
Add good ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into chilled cocktail glass. The original cocktail had no garnish, but many variations include a discarded lime twist and a maraschino cherry.
The Last Word on The Last Word
Drink virality is something that didn’t need social media. The history of The Last Word says a lot about the power of pleasure to revive long forgotten tipples. All it takes is a drink to be enjoyed once, and it just might live forever on the lips of every grateful drinker that’s lucky enough to try it. The Last word an example of how units of culture are transferred and made a part of history.
Photo credit: @cocktail.vision