The Last Word

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Green Chartreuse, lime juice, gin, and maraschino liqueur in equal parts: the Last Word is a drink which is worthy of its’ name.  The drink is complicated, and very good, it is well balanced and a delicious mix of herbal, sour, sweet, and various other flavors depending on the gin utilized.


“Je m’en vais chercher un grand peut-être.”

Last words of François Rabelais (c. 1494 – 1553)
As François Rabelais said prior to his death: “I am off to find the great something.”  He was a French writer, doctor, and humanist of the Renaissance.  One of his most famous works, the La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel, which is a collection of assorted books dedicated to narrating in a satirical manner various amusing stories. In the third book, some of the characters, both of which friends of the title character Pantagruel, set off on an odyssey of sorts: Panurge, who can be described as an erudite bohemian, and Brother Jean, a bold and alcoholic former monk, among a few others, set off to find the “Divine Bottle” (Wikipedia “Gargantua and Pantagruel”).  Perhaps, in this case, the “Divine Bottle” is that of Chartreuse, that delicious and complicated liqueur that is constructed by monks at Chartreuse, and mixes so well to produce an exceptional cocktail such as this. 

The drink has emerged out of the blue.  While the cocktail is a Prohibition period cocktail, most probably from the Detroit Athletic Club, the cocktail had fallen out of favor, much like many others, only to be rediscovered by Murray Stenson at the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle (Clarke).  Going unpublished in many books, one of the few sources that cite the drink in Ted Saucier’s 1951 book Bottoms Up (Ibid).  The cocktail was introduced around 1921 by Frank Fogarty who was known as the Dublin Minstrel for his vaudevillian skills (Ibid).  According to Robert Hess, the drink, at least the revival of it, is the greatest contribution that has come out of Seattle in the mixological community (Vinh).  Spreading outwards, the drink has been picked up in elite cocktail dens in Seattle, Portland, New York City, and even in Europe, as well as Sydney (Ibid).  Despite not being well known even today, taste wise, the drink is hard to beat.

“It’s good.”
Last words of Sadako Sasaki (January 7, 1943 – October 25, 1955)

The final words of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who survived the atomic blast of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, which were used to describe her last meal of rice with tea (Mecklenfeld).  Sasaki, who was only two at the time of the explosion, would die when she was twelve from leukemia that would develop from the radiation of the bomb (Ibid).  In a popular folk tale in Japanese culture, someone who would fold a thousand origami cranes would be granted a wish; Sasaki tried to pursue this when she was hospitalized, and only folded six-hundred and forty-four (Ibid).  In my opinion, this cocktail is truly a legendary cocktail, similar to the story of Sasaki, and her final words are befitting for the drink, if not perhaps an understatement, just like Sasaki’s story.

Initially, the first tastes that come off on the nose are the lime and the gin, with the finish coming in the form of the herbal.  Each of the flavors comes into play perfectly, interacting yet remaining distinct in the overall drink.  It has an excellent balance, that even hides the flavor of the alcohol with the taste of the sour and the herbal. I do feel that Chartreuse is the dominating flavor in this drink, despite the excellent resonance of flavors.  I would recommend either Plymouth, which has a nice coriander flavor, providing an excellent addition that blends well with the Chartreuse, but also Beefeater 24 works well, on account of the light grapefruit flavor, and citrus flavors that are in the gin, which pair nicely with the maraschino liqueur and lime juice.  The drink works well with strong juniper gins as well, like Tanqueray or Gordon’s. 

Personally, I feel that this drink works well paired with some seafood, because the flavors seem to blend well with things, especially shell fish.  It may work well as a digestif, mainly on account of the herbal notes in the Chartreuse, and the gin.  Albeit, I feel this drink ought to be served with food, because there is so much going on in the drink, you can easily pull flavors out between the food and the drink.

One major variation on the drink is the Final Ward, which comes from Phil Ward of New York, who replaces gin and lime with rye and lemon, which would give it a more grain like flavor profile, and eliminate some of the botanical flavors (Vinh).

 The Last Word:

3/4 ounce gin (Beefeater 24 works well)
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce lime juice

Shake the ingredients together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

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Clarke, Paul.  April 13, 2006.  “The Last Word”  The Cocktail Chronicles.  http://www.cocktailchronicles.com/2006/04/13/the-last-word/ (accessed April 17, 2010).

Jay.   July 3, 2007.  “Chartreuse.”  OhGosh!  http://ohgo.sh/archive/chartreuse/ (accessed April 17, 2010).

Mecklenfeld, Jos.  February 13, 2008.  “Crane birds of Sasaki Sadako.”  Flickr! http://www.flickr.com/photos/josmecklenfeld/2262940519/ (accessed April 17, 2010).

Vinh, Tan.  March 11, 2009.  “The Last Word, a cocktail reborn in Seattle, is on everyone’s lips.”  The Seattle Times.  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/restaurant/2008837441_zres11lastword.html?syndication=rss (accessed April 17, 2010).

Wikipedia contributors. “François Rabelais.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Rabelais (accessed April 17, 2010).
–.  “Gargantua and Pantagruel.”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Rabelais (accessed April 17, 2010). (accessed April 17, 2010).