Green Chartreuse, at 55%ABV, is a somewhat divisive bottle. As in, there are those who want nothing more than to shot the strongest liquor they can, and those who know how to use such a component for in more elegant ways (although who doesn’t love a cheeky shot of Chartreuse to get things flowing?). Frank Fogarty, the bartender credited with the Last Words creation, fell firmly into the latter category. Originally a Prohibition-era drink, then revived in Seattle during the cocktail revolution by Murray Stenson, the Last Word comprises of equal parts gin, green Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur and lime juice.
Stenson himself claims that the Last Word is an odd-sounding drink, admitting that "on paper it just sounds like it’s not going to work". That's still true to this day, but when Stenson re-discovered this recipe nearly 2 decades ago, most bars didn't stock Green Chartreuse or Maraschino. Having no idea how the concoction would taste, Stenson was intrigued by the unusual liqueurs it contained. He saw it as a perfect cocktail for the Zig Zag Cafe's menu, as he was a firm believer that all bars should have an identity. It just so happened that Zig Zag Cafe stocked a lot of rarely-seen bottles, and the Last Word mixed of two of them in creating what would become the bars signature drink.
The Last Word has had a hell of an impact on what we’ve been drinking for the last decade-and-a-bit. There are now countless iterations sprouting out from Fogarty’s 4-ingredient equal-part formula, the most notable of which is the Paper Plane, which has itself become a modern classic.
Compare the Last Word with the Negroni, aka the 3-equal-parts cocktail, and you'll see why its 4-equal-parts formula makes it a tougher framework for variations. The Negroni is very much core mixology. It is a genius, yet incredibly simple blend of alcohol, bitters and sugar, with each of its ingredients taking up one of the mantle (albeit they are all alcoholic). With a Last Word, the ingredients play multiple roles. The Chartreuse is both sweet and herbal. The Maraschino brings vast amounts flavour along with its sugar content. Gin is often seen as being a vessel upon which the other components of a Last Word can shine. That just isn't the case, or else vodka would arguably be better. The citrussy, earthy botanicals in a London Dry gin compliment and mellow out the pungent liqueurs in equal parts.
There are those words again, equal parts. Fitting, as the Last Word is a perfect showcase of how a well-balanced drink, with properly thought-out ingredients, can become so much greater than the sum of its parts.
HITTHiSBAR: Last Word