Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels
This past weekend, the weather came dangerously close to 70 degrees…in February. Man, life is tough in Georgia. Anyway, it felt so much like Spring that I found myself wanting a drink that matched the weather. One of my all-time favorite Springy drinks is a recently (well, relatively) re-discovered classic, the Last Word:
The Last Word
3/4 ounce Gin (London Dry, such as Beefeater 24 or Tanqueray)
3/4 ounce Maraschino Liqueur
3/4 ounce Green Chartreuse
3/4 ounce Lime Juice
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe (5.5-ounce). No garnish.
From Bottoms Up by Ted Saucier
The chilled gin and lime keep the drink brisk and refreshing while the Chartreuse and maraschino — both flavor powerhouses — provide the heavy herbage, though they’re mollified somewhat by their companions. The result? A fantastic, refreshing drink that gives you a glass filled with the taste of the herb garden, all without getting your shoes muddy. The flavors in the Last Word are complex, approachable, and agreeable, unlike some drinks with a number of “funky” flavors (as I like to call them) that are “interesting” to try but not favorites…mixological “I-dare-you”s, in a way.
As Jason Wilson notes, the Last Word is “a thinking person’s drink:” not a one-note wonder, but an extremely sippable and refreshing ball of complexity. It was introduced in Ted Saucier’s Bottoms Up in 1951, though he claims it came from the Detroit Athletic Club and was first mixed either during Prohibition or shortly before. Like the Aviation, it’s one you have to try.
But why stop there? Bartenders sure haven’t. In 90% of craft cocktail cocktail bars (at least), some variation of the Last Word has, at one point or another, popped up on the drink menu. After mastering the Aviation (another forgotten classic that made use of the then-newly-available créme de violette), bartenders moved on to the Last Word, using it as proof of their know-how. Endless variations followed (the new Cocktailian badge of Honor is the Champs Elysées, apparently). One of the reasons for its flexibility, if not its handy, equal-parts formula, is the name. Last Word? How about the Final Word? A Word with You? Other Word? My Word? Your Word? Our Word? Final Ward? Harsh Words? Fightin’ Words? Four-letter Word?
See what I mean? Just think of the possibilities! One such example is The Other Word, which I gleaned from a copy of Home Bar Basics by David Stolte (an absolutely wonderful little book that I highly recommend, especially to beginners). The recipe comes from the Varnish, a speakeasy-style bar in LA.
The Other Word
2 ounces Mezcal (Vida, from del Maguey)
1 ounce Lime Juice
1/4 ounce Yellow Chartreuse
1/4 ounce Agave Nectar
1 teaspoon Maraschino Liqueur
Shake with ice and strain over a large chunk of ice in a chilled double-rocks glass.
From the Varnish in LA
See what they did there? Up the Mezcal, reduce the liqueurs, swap the green Chartreuse for yellow (its floral, honeyed flavored works nicely with the agave syrup and Mezcal), and put the drink on ice to make it a long-term sipper. Mezcal deserves a full post to itself, but not today. Here it plays very well with the lime and herbs, though, as always, its smoky flavor dominates the overall taste (you’ll notice I didn’t put my drink over ice in the photo…but it needed it). If you’re desperate for citrus, a bit of orange peel works rather well, and I doubled the maraschino and added a teaspoon of Chartreuse, just so they stood up to the base a little better. If you’ve got the PDT Cocktail Book, look up the Pearl of Puebla…very similar and equally wonderful, with an addition of fresh oregano that makes the drink a nice, minty green.
Looking for more variations? Well, OK…first check out a subsection of the previously-mentioned Bar Basics website and see the Final Ward (with rye) and the Wordsmith (with rum), then take a look at Cold Glass to see some beautiful photos and a couple more variations (one with rhum, one with brandy). Or, after hopping through a time warp to 2009 (be sure to watch the video), or taking mixing/bar stocking lessons from Robert Hess, head over to Summit Sips for a nice write-up and a gazillion comments. Finally, one last variation: mix a Last Word with genever and it becomes the Latest Word.
On that note, I think we need a Georgia Tech version called “What’s the Good Word.” Hmmm, time to tinker…
Photos by IJL