There’s something almost mythically satisfying about equal-parts cocktails.
Each ingredient is added equally, each contributes precisely its share—it’s a communist utopia in liquid form, one that sidesteps that messy human business that tends to ruin communist utopias. Equal parts recipes have a soothing simplicity that evokes the relationship between beauty and truth, or perhaps the Tao—there’s no tweaking with this or that, no forcing things in, no fussing about. What’s in it? These things. How much of each? The same amount of each. And while there are many extraordinary equal parts cocktails (the Negroni and the Corpse Reviver No. 2 come to mind), there are none that so epitomize their synergistic potential more than the Last Word.
The Last Word blows people’s minds. The experience of the first sip tends to expand what the drinker realizes is possible from a cocktail. It’s definitely not for everyone—it’s too bold for that, a series of flavor bazookas, the exact polar opposite of banality—but those who like it tend to do so with the enthusiasm of a zealot.
There are four ingredients. They are deployed, as mentioned, in equal amounts, which is already a little unusual. What makes the Last Word so impactful, though, and what makes the recipe seem so frankly insane when you read it, is that it’s made up exclusively of scene-stealers. It’s a supergroup made entirely of divas. There’s the London Dry Gin, as stiff and broad-shouldered a cocktail base as you could ever hope to find; there’s lime juice, necessary malic tartness to counter the sweetness of the liqueurs; there’s Maraschino liqueur, distilled from sour cherries, intense and pungent and peculiar; and there’s Green Chartreuse, which, to the extent that it’s describable at all, is like if you spent all day in a forest collecting every green thing you could find and then infused every single one of them all together into 110 proof booze and then put that liquid into a shotgun and fired it into your own mouth.
The Last Word was invented at the Detroit Athletic Club in 1916. It barely got its legs under it before Prohibition showed up just three years later to hit reset on the whole drinking culture, and it more or less disappeared until 1951, when it was dusted off and published in Ted Saucier’s Bottom’s Up! to absolutely no fanfare whatsoever. Once again it fell into obscurity, and once again was resurrected, this time in 2003, when legendary barman Murray Stenson of Seattle’s Zig Zag Cafe found it in Saucier’s book and decided to put it on his menu. The third time was the charm: The regulars loved it, then the city loved it, then the New York bartenders found out about it, and then everyone found out about it. Today, you can go into a cocktail bar in London or Lisbon or Auckland or Cleveland, Ohio and order a Last Word, and the bartender will know exactly what you mean.
“The Last Word,” writes Liquor.com, “is about as close to perfect as cocktails can be.” The Detroit Free Press praises its “extraordinary balance and haunting flavor.” In her book entirely about equal parts drinks, Kara Newman writes that “after years of fussy, baroque cocktails, simplicity is back in style.” Indeed, one of the things that’s so satisfying about equal parts cocktails in general and the Last Word in particular is that the recipe is incredibly basic and yet the cocktail is as complex and dynamic as any you’ll ever have. As the trade magazine Imbibe says, the Last Word is a cocktail “that’s easy to assemble but hard to forget.”
The Last Word
- 0.75 oz. gin
- 0.75 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
- 0.75 oz. Green Chartreuse
- 0.75 oz. lime juice
Shake long and hard over ice, 12 to 15 seconds, longer than most drinks—a little added dilution helps this drink be its best self. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a maraschino cherry, a lime wheel, or just nothing at all.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Gin: Gin is bold by nature and usually the loudest voice in a mixed drink, but incredibly in the Last Word, Gin is the least impactful ingredient. I say that to say this: London Dry Gin (Beefeater, Tanqueray, etc) is what most people are going to reach for most of the time, but it doesn’t much matter what gin you use. Weirder gins will make themselves heard in this drink, but less than you might think. My only real guideline is that you want to keep the proof up—the gin is working behind the scenes to keep the whole project from getting too sweet, and that needs proof, probably 44 percent minimum. If money weren’t an object, I’d pull down Tanqueray 10 here, which is still robust like Tanqueray but has grapefruits and limes and chamomile to offer a juiciness that I enjoy, but it’s 50 percent more expensive than regular Tanqueray and probably only makes a drink that’s 5 to 10 percent better, so it’s up to you.
Maraschino Liqueur: There are many brands of maraschino liqueur, a liquid distilled from the bitter marasca cherry that hails originally from Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Unless you’re at a particularly overachieving liquor store you’ll only see one brand, the straw-covered stalwart from Luxardo, which fortunately works perfectly here.
Green Chartreuse: Chartreuse is expensive, around $60, but not as expensive as it should be. Made from 132 different herbs, roots and plants by silent French monks, it is arguably the best liqueur ever made and certainly the most inimitable. Accept no substitutes. There are two types of Chartreuse available in this country, the Yellow and the Green—they are both amazing, but in this application it must be Green, which you’ll know not only from its natural green shade but also because it’s the one that’s 55 percent ABV (the yellow is a modest 40 percent).