Tuesday, September 13, 2011

And so it begins...with The Last Word

The Last Word...a pungent, vibrantly herbaceous, complex cocktail with a touch of sweetness and cloudy green hue.  Calling for equal parts of gin, maraschino liqueur, green Chartreuse, and lime juice, this drink was thankfully revived by famed Seattle mixologist Murray Stenson during his days at the Zig Zag Cafe.  Stenson came across The Last Word while sifting through Ted Saucier's "Bottoms Up!", a 1951 bartender's guide which featured this prohibition-era cocktail, originally conceived at the Detroit Athletic Club by Frank Fogarty in the late 1920s/early 1930s.

While The Last Word is a perfectly well-balanced concoction in itself, a number of variations have made their rounds since the original re-surfaced in 2004.  Perhaps my favorite was developed by New York's Philip Ward, of Pegu Club, Death & Co., and Mayhuel.  He calls for substitutions of rye whiskey and lemon juice in place of the gin and lime, all else, and proportions, remain the same.  It is certainly a different animal, perhaps a bit softer given the lack of an upfront punch of lime, and without a doubt less colorful in the glass, yet it is still a tasty sip in its own right.

As a relative newcomer to the cocktail enthusiast world, I am well aware that one needs to truly understand a particular cocktail and the subtle nuances of its components, be it brand, style, or relative proportion, before going all 'mad scientist' on it behind the bar.  A recent trip to Seattle further ingrained this methodical approach, compliments of Nathan Weber, now working alongside Jamie Boudreau at Canon.

A late afternoon venture to the Rob Roy left me at the end of the bar chatting with Nathan as he poured me one after another of his novel creations.  According to him, his experience at Needle and Thread, the 'speakeasy' upstairs from Tavern and Law, fostered his ability to intelligently combine spirits and ingredients.  He started with The Aviation, a classic if there ever was one.  First varying the gin, then tweaking the contributions of the maraschino...in subtle increments no less, a barspoon difference here or there...and finally the acidity of the lemon.  How did they all play together?  Did the sweet or bitter profiles of the maraschino under or overshadow the acid of the lemon or citrus botanicals of the gin?  What about a more juniper-forward gin or perhaps a genever or Old Tom?  As he queried his customers for their preferences in a cocktail...be it bitter, sweet, spirit-heavy, acidic, herbaceous, complex, etc...armed with a sip straw, he'd sample hundreds of these variations he created.  In the end, he came away with a very good feel for what his customers liked, and how his subtle changes could begin to skew the cocktail from a classic, into one of his own.  While it was abundantly clear that Nate's experience as a mixologist went well beyond his years at Tavern and Law/Needle and Thread, it's also pretty easy to appreciate how his approaches helped him to devise some terrific original cocktails, ie.The 30th Century Man, now a favorite of mine...but more on that later.

The point?  Don't stretch, complicate, or push the envelope at all before really getting an understanding for how the spirits, sugars, juices, bitters, or even the dilution thru mixing, affect the final outcome.  And with that, while I don't have the vast resources or volume to endlessly tinker with recipes, I will begin my own scaled down exploration with The Last Word.

The Last Word
3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz green Chartreuse

The Final Ward
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz green Chartreuse

Shake well with ice, double strain if desired (ice slivers and pulp have no contribution here), and serve up in a chilled cocktail glass.