From Detroit to Seattle but via New York City, the Last Word cocktail reminds us that mixed drinks rarely take the quickest route to where they’re going. With a hearty helping of green Chartreuse (the herbal, licorice-y and grassy French liqueur produced by Carthusian monks), as well as maraschino liqueur (a fragrant, sweetened spirit made from the entire cherry), the drink is more pungent than many mixed drinks that have similarly captured the popular imagination. But the Last Word has become a common bar order these days, taking its place as part of the cocktail canon more than 70 years after its invention. And that’s for good reason: The gin drink offers a careful balance between robust flavors—nutty, herbaceous, sweet, and tart—and it’s one of the most successful examples of the equal parts game.
In his 1951 cocktail book Bottoms Up!, Ted Saucier attributes the origins of the drink to the Detroit Athletic Club, where it has existed at least since Prohibition. During the dark days of temperance, it was likely made with bathtub gin—a mix of bootleg spirit flavored with on-hand botanicals—and brought that way to the Big Apple by vaudevillian Frank Fogarty. Luckily by the time Seattle bartender Murray Stetson began serving the drink at the Zig Zag café in the early 2000s, such desperate measures were no longer necessary.
Today, drink makers have a range of gins to choose from, but a classic London Dry like Tanqueray (which is austere enough not to muddy an already crowded cup) works great. There are a few maraschino liqueurs on the market today, but Luxardo makes the industry standard.
Alas, there’s no exact substitute for the singular green Chartreuse. Still, if you’re unlucky enough to live in a place and time where the iconic French liqueur is unavailable, desperate times call for desperate measures. Génépy, the alpine spirit made with artemisia, is more green wood than Christmas spices, but makes a passable cocktail, even if the result isn’t exactly a Last Word. Centerbe, the Abruzzo liqueur, gets closer, and Faccia Brutto’s Brooklyn version makes a pretty good if not perfect substitution. Neither substitution seems to play quite as well with citrus in this context, but a little adjustment can get it closer to the original. If you're using the génépy, my suggestion is to add 1 tsp. of simple syrup to the mix—give it a try and adjust to your taste. If you’re going with Centerbe, use ¼ oz. less liqueur (so ½ oz. instead of ¾ oz.) and increase the gin to a full ounce. It’s not equal parts anymore, but you might as well enjoy your drink to its fullest.
Don’t skimp on the shake on this one: it’s sweet enough it needs a little muscle to loosen up.
Combine ¾ oz. fresh lime juice, ¾ oz. gin, ¾ oz. Green Chartreuse, and ¾ oz. Luxardo Maraschino in a shaker tin with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled, 10–15 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
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