Friday, June 08, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Last Word

The Last Word is aptly named. A libation once utterly forgotten, it has made a roaring comeback. In the past ten years it’s become a modern staple, turning up in bars around the globe. Flip through any recent cocktail book and the recipe will be there. Its unlikely resurrection has been so complete that the Last Word has been crowned “the Official Drink of the Classic Cocktail Renaissance.”

But what matters to me is that its rediscovery made the name of the bar where I began my cocktail education. It’s high time I showed it some love in return for all that it has indirectly made possible for me – in addition to the fact that it is absolutely sublime.

The Last Word had its second act thanks to the ministrations of my friend Murray Stenson. Late of the Zig Zag Café and currently working at Canon on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Murray is also an inveterate collector of bartending manuals. In the early days of the Zig Zag he was paging through a copy of Ted Saucier’s long out-of-print Bottoms Up! (1951), its spine held together with tape, when he unearthed the recipe for a drink that had been regularly served at the Detroit Athletic Club. The Zig Zag had the ingredients on hand. It went onto the menu. And the Zig Zag’s legend was born, even as the Last Word’s was reborn.

Key to the cocktail is green chartreuse, a 110-proof liqueur made from a recipe known only to two monks and originally considered an elixir for long life. (It’s funny the things that will knock you out of a movie. I have my share of problems with Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. But when QT turns up as an Austin bartender who forces his customers to drink “the only liquor so good they named a color after it” as shots, I stopped paying attention.)

The Last Word’s four elements come together in a smooth riot of flavors, at once sweet and sour with a sharp herbal finish. The drink isn’t for everyone, as Murray learned last year when he served it to Kathie Lee and Hoda on the Today show. (To be fair, it was early in the morning, and the ladies had been sampling Washington State wines.) But there’s no denying that the Last Word brings together in one glass everything that the cocktail revival is about: history, complexity and innovation. For the latter, look no further than the Final Ward, an ingenious variation concocted by Philip Ward when he was at New York’s Death and Company, which substitutes rye and lemon for gin and lime. But start with the original, a treasure saved from neglect by one of the world’s premiere bartenders.

The Last Word

Ted Saucier, Bottoms Up!, 1951

½ oz. gin
½ oz. maraschino
½ oz. green chartreuse
½ oz. lime juice

Shake. Strain. No garnish.