If you’ve never had one before, the Last Word is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. It is sharp, bracing, with strong herbaceous flavors that walk right up to the line of being too intense but, instead of crossing it, settle comfortably into intriguing and delicious territory.
This quirky little cocktail hails back to 1916, though it didn’t make it’s way into a cocktail book until 1951 (Ted Saucier's "Bottom's Up!") and even then it took several more decades to reach the level of popularity it had always deserved. More details on it's twisted history can be found here.
While its flavors are surprising and unusual, but not weird. It's one of the first drinks I suggest to people who are looking to try something new. The traditional recipe calls for just lime juice, but I think splitting that with lemon levies the intensity and harmonizes the ingredients a bit more. I also recommend shaking for a tad longer than usual to create more dilution to avoid any risk of the drink being cloying.
1 oz gin
1 oz Green Chartreuse
1 oz maraschino
½ oz lime juice
½ oz lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a shaker, fill with ice. Shake for 12 seconds (a bit longer than normal) and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry, if desired.
If you make a Last Word, let me see!
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The Last Word's Peculiar Formula
While the Last Word would generally be considered a sour style cocktail, it’s recipe is a tad unconventional. Instead of the traditional 2 ounces of base spirit supported by a cast of components at smaller quantities, each of it’s 4 ingredients share the load with equal measurements. Three of which - Green Chartreuse, maraschino and gin - have quite assertive flavors.
In particular, Green Chartreuse - a french herbal liqueur, and maraschino - a pungent Italian cherry liquor, are known for their propensity to overwhelm other flavors, which is why they are typically employed sparingly. You’d rarely see more than ½ oz of either called for in a recipe, but the Last Word has ¾ oz of both! Even now the recipe doesn’t look right to me. But that’s just another trick up the Last Word’s sleeve.
Not only do the Chartreuse and maraschino neutralize one another’s potency, but they harmonize in such a way that a new, more dynamic flavor is created that is greater than the sum of their (equal) parts.
The Last Word's uniqueness has inspired countless variations in cocktail bars across the land (it doesn’t hurt that the name lends itself to modification as well: “Final Word” “Latest Word” “Another Word”, etc.). But because the drink's specific ingredient pairing is the main reason it works so well, reworking it is not quite as easy as it is with some drinks. A good approach is to substitute like-mined ingredients, spirt-for-spirt, liqueur-for-liqueur. Finding a combination that works is a bit of a trail and error process. Here are a couple riffs that are tried and true:
An very easy, and very successful variation from Phil Ward (hence the name) that swaps in rye for gin and lemon for lime, the proportions are all the same.
Mezcal Last Word
Mezcal's fruity campfire qualities mesh with Chartreuse and maraschino like a dream. Using it in place of gin ratchets up the flavor complexity a few more notches. If you’re a fan of mezcal and the Last Word, make this now!