The Last Word

This is absolutely one of my favorite cocktails ever. I, and we all, have Seattle bartender Murray Stenson to thank for this.

About five years ago back Murray was flipping through a 1951 cocktail book by Ted Saucier called Bottoms Up! and came across the recipe for this drink, which was created at the Detroit Athletic Club around the time of Prohibition, and put it on the menu at Zig Zag. Once resurrected it became an immediate hit (in fact, has become the de facto signature cocktail of Seattle), spread beyond Seattle to Portland and beyond, and took the cocktailian world by storm.

Unsurprising too, as it’s a spectacular drink. Complex, herbal, tart, a bit sweet and yet very easy to drink, The Last Word can take you to another world in a glass. Seriously, if you’ve never tasted this drink you owe it to yourself to try it.

The most distinct flavor component is the French herbal liqueur Chartreuse (of the green variety), still made by Carthusian monks with a secret recipe that to this day no one person knows (three monks are responsible for the recipe, each only knowing 1/3 of it). Powerful stuff at 110 proof and comprised of 130 herbs, it’s a bit of an onslaught the first time you try it, but it’ll quickly take you under its spell. Balanced by the fruitiness and nuttiness of the maraschino, the tartness and freshness of the lime and the strength and botanicals of the gin, this is cocktail alchemy at its zenith. It shouldn’t work as well as it does. Equal proportions? That much maraschino? Yep.

When making this drink at home make sure you use a robust gin, as a softer gin will get completely lost in this drink. We’re talking Beefeater or Tanqueray here.

The Last Word

3/4 ounce gin.
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse.
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur.
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.

Combine with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

I’m a big fan of this drink, as are many others, but some feel there’s room for improvement. Bobby Heugel at Anvil in Houston wants more gin in his (“Hell, I want more gin in my cereal”), and feels the drink works a lot better with lemons than with limes. In fact, he says he’s stopped using limes entirely, and offers this variation as better suiting his taste:

Refined Speech

1-1/2 ounces Junipero Gin.
3/4 ounce Green Chartreuse.
3/4 ounce Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur.
1/2 ounce Lemon Juice.

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

“Now, clearly we have a very different drink than the original Last Word, but I think that changing ratios of this classic and switching citrus is well worth the experimenting. I rarely follow a recipe from a book. Sure, I start there, but ultimately the unique characteristics of the world’s spirits require adjustments in all cocktails. A good cocktail is the product of someone’s understanding of all the spirits and how they work together.”

Which one do you prefer?


2 Responses to “The Last Word”

  1. Maitri said:

    May 19, 10 at 2:01 pm

    The Last Word is one of my favorite cocktails (thanks, Michael P, for introducing it to me!) and I prefer the version with lime and less gin in it. Not having a “refined” bone in my body and all.

  2. Chuck said:

    May 19, 10 at 3:25 pm

    That Michael P is a good cocktail evangelist. 🙂

    There’s another great variation called The Final Ward, which swaps the gin for rye whiskey, and the lime for lemon. Very much worth a try if you’re a whiskey fan.