The Last Word is my favourite cocktail of all time.
Without realising that this was an actual thing, I had been searching for the Last Word for many years. Any time I happened to be in an establishment that served fine drinks I would ask them to make me something along the lines of this…
Sharp and citrussy, but also with a sweetness. Perhaps cherry vermouth. No ice. No whisky or bourbon. In a martini style glass.
Inevitably, disappointment would follow. Despite some rare exceptions, nothing ever really quite the mark. The particular combination of flavours and sensations is what I always crave after eating, and acts as the perfect counter-point to salts and fats, without being sickly sweet.
In the summer of 2022 I found myself in New York with my friends Caroline and Watkis. The name of the particular bar escapes me, but upon relaying my usual preferences to the eccentric bartender (big beard, shirt open to reveal a large chain), he barely let me finish before he slapped the table and said he knew exactly the thing.
- Fresh lime juice.
- Green Chartreuse.
- Luxardo Maraschino.
The addition of a Luxardo Maraschino cherry as garnish is optional, though I know some folks who would insist that it is essential).
Last words are relatively simple to make. There aren’t a whole load of ingredients, and each of them is the same quantity. However… the constituent parts are a tad unusual, and not every bar will have them. Particularly Green Chartreuse. As a result, I am always on the lookout for the distinctive bottle.
The OG Last Word calls for gin, though you can mix it up as you see fit. The one I tried in New York used Mezcal, which is still my favourite. However, there are lots of great possibilities. Some of the best that I have tried include peaty whisky like Laphroaig and Ardbeg, as well as pisco. Rum is a bit overwhelming, and vodka is dull af.
Different variations of the Last Word have various names, including the ‘Final Word’, depending on what base spirit is used. However, nobody seems to be able to agree on what these are meant to be.
- Vodka Last Word: I once told some hipster cocktail place that boasted about their creativity that I wanted them to make a Last Word but ‘f*** it up. Go crazy. Make a variation.’ In response they replaced the gin with vodka. I mean, honestly.
- Glass with ice: In an Edinburgh bar I ordered a Last Word, after spotting Green Chartreuse on the shelf. After explaining what went into it (having seen all the ingredients on the shelves), I was pleased to see them shaking it all up… licking my lips in anticipation. Unfortunately, they poured it straight into a pint glass with ice. Oft. It was not the same experience. (See image on right).
- Yellow Chartreuse: This can be used in a pinch, but it’s not the same. A fancy cocktail bar in Seoul, South Korea once protested that they couldn’t use Yellow instead as it would sully the drink. Now that’s commitment to the craft.
- Bartender’s Choice: On a number of occasions, after ordering a Last Word, I’ve been asked what bar I work in. Apparently it’s an ‘industry drink’ – one that’s a lesser known classic.
- Why do you have Chartreuse: I spotted a bottle of the green stuff at an old man’s pub in Glasgow, and asked if they could make a Last Word. In response they said they didn’t do cocktails. When I asked what they did with Chartreuse, they said people sometimes drank it straight. I ordered some shots to try for myself. That was a mistake. People definitely don’t drink that shit on its own. If they do, they need to seek help.