The Last Word: Reviving a Gin Cocktail Classic with Timeless Charm
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. Strangely, cocktails of the past have acted as transmitters of culture and customs from one place to another. Ergo, cocktails were the original memes.
The Origins of the Last Word Gin Cocktail
“The Last Word” is a send-up of a gin sour style drink made with two legendary liqueurs that we will often revisit 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, so much for exercise. However, 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 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 1960s and were replaced by all manner of martinis as far as gin is concerned. After that, the ’70s and ’80s are bereft of classic cocktailing. The drink 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. It gives a novice cocktail aficionado a glimpse into the magic and nuance that a few balanced ingredients can produce.
Chartreuse Verte (Green)
A spirit must be impactful 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 a “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 and lime leaf. Throughout its history, it has been consumed primarily as a digestif. Still, Mr. Stenson’s rediscovery of this cocktail has rendered it necessary in the brave new world of thoughtful cocktailing. About five different iterations of Chartreuse are available for purchase, but the classic Verte is the best place to start. There is a connection between monasteries and the production of some great alcoholic beverages, and this might be my favorite.
Another wonderfully curious spirit, this interesting liqueur throws the first-time drinker for a loop as it’s crystal clear and doesn’t 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. Instead, it displays nutty with hints of cacao. The nose is slightly minerally, and the finish is less sweet than one would imagine. It made its way from the 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; most cocktail recipes refer to this brand. Although quite esoteric and niche, this is another indispensable bottle.
Crafting the Last Word Gin Cocktail
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 oz. lime juice
.75 oz. Maraschino liqueur
.75 oz. Chartreuse Verte
.75 oz. Highclere Castle Gin
Add good ice and shake vigorously—double strain into a 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
Drinking 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 might live forever on the lips of every grateful drinker lucky enough to try it. The Last Word is an example of how units of culture are transferred and made a part of history.
Photo credit: @cocktail.vision