5 Delicious Variations on the Last Word Cocktail

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5 Delicious Variations on the Last Word Cocktail

The Last Word Cocktail is one of the most prominent reclamation stories of the modern craft cocktail era, a drink that was functionally unknown to even seasoned bartenders before the mid-2000s, but is now utterly ubiquitous. A testament to how the flavors of the past can return to captivate even jaded modern drinkers, it’s now one of the most popular Prohibition-era cocktails in the country.

The man we have to thank for the modern accessibility of the Last Word is legendary Seattle bartender Murray Stenson, now in his 70s—a man so beloved that fans, patrons and bars raised more than $200,000 to pay for his heart surgery a number of years back. Back in 2004, Stenson was bartending at a place called the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle, where he was searching for a new drink. He reportedly came across a 1952 copy of Ted Saucier’s cocktail book Bottoms Up!, which described the Last Word as a cocktail that had been invented some 30 years earlier at the Detroit Athletic Club. In the post-war years, however, knowledge of the cocktail had more or less been lost entirely, so Stenson decided to revive it. The rest is history—the Last Word became an underground sensation in Seattle and Portland, before spreading across the drinks industry in the U.S. By the end of the 2000s, bartenders everywhere knew it. By the end of the 2010s, it was a staple in practically every bar.

Ultimately, though, the most amazing thing about the Last Word is the fact that its basic construction—equal parts of gin, chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice—proved to be so malleable to change and experimentation. There are countless Last Word riffs that swap in different ingredients, and improbably they almost always work out to being delicious. There’s simply something magical in this ratio, and its combination of boozy, sour, sweet and herbal elements. You can sub almost anything into a Last Word, and the results end up being intriguing. It might be the single most riffed-upon American cocktail since the Manhattan.

Here, then, are five particularly tasty Last Word variations that show off the range of flavors possible within the Last Word framework.


A Few Notes on the Last Word

There are a few general rules one can choose to follow or not follow as you make any of these Last Word variations.

Traditionally, the Last Word is made with equal parts of four ingredients, shaken over ice, and then strained into a classic cocktail/martini glass or coupe glass. To make a longer, less bracing drink, it can also be poured over ice in an old fashioned glass.

One can mess with the ratios a bit, highlighting a certain ingredient more strongly, though the “equal parts” aspect of the drink is mildly sacred and part of the fun of it in my opinion. The drink can also be made milder by using Yellow rather than Green Chartreuse.

One can also add additional ingredients to make it an equal parts mix of five or more ingredients.

With a basic Last Word format, .75 oz is a pretty good volume for each ingredient, yielding a drink that fits nicely in a cocktail coupe and isn’t too indulgent when all is said and done. One must keep in mind that because of the base spirit and the Chartreuse, the Last Word tends to be a very potent, boozy cocktail. It’s certainly not one to be taken lightly.

And now, onto the variations.


Final Ward

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Arguably the first Last Word variant to become quite popular and recognized on its own, the Final Ward makes reference to the classic Ward 8 with its base of rye whiskey, and the changing of lime juice to lemon. At the same time, it retains the Green Chartreuse and Maraschino liqueur that typify the classic Last Word to make what is probably the most “baseline” whiskey twist on the drink.

- .75 oz rye whiskey
- .75 oz Green Chartreuse
- .75 oz Maraschino liqueur
- .75 oz lemon juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add plenty of ice, and shake vigorously to chill. Strain into a cocktail coupe. Optionally garnish with a maraschino cherry or lemon twist.


Ultima Palabra

If you want to simply sub mezcal into a classic Last Word recipe, some folks refer to the resulting drink as the Last of the Oaxacans, which preserves the Green Chartreuse, Maraschino and lime juice intact. The Ultima Palabra, on the other hand, is very similar, but it makes the additional step of adding a fifth ingredient, which is an equal part of pineapple juice. This addition helps to round out the profile of this drink, smoothing the intense edges of the mezcal and Chartreuse with some additional sweetness and fruit.

- .75 oz mezcal
- .75 oz Green Chartreuse
- .75 oz Maraschino liquer
- .75 oz lime juice
- .75 oz pineapple juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add plenty of ice, and shake vigorously to chill. Strain into a cocktail coupe. Optionally garnish with a maraschino cherry or pineapple chunk.


Paper Plane

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The Paper Plane might be the most enduring of all the Last Word variations, and the one that “modern classic” status was most quickly conferred upon. It follows the format much less closely than other Last Word riffs, and indeed doesn’t have a single one of the original Last Word ingredients in it—but it does preserve the equal parts ratio, which is important. This combination of bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino and lemon juice is light, sweet, citrusy and refreshing, having less of a bitter and boozy edge than the Chartreuse-forward Last Word. Perhaps as a result, the Paper Plane is sneered at a bit by certain snooty mixologists who seem to believe that cocktails need to be “challenging,” but the genius of the Paper Plane is its extreme accessibility. Since this drink was created in 2007, it’s become one of the most popular bourbon cocktails in the country, and there’s a good reason for that.

Note: The Paper Plane can be made with other amaro, such as Montenegro or Averna, but you really need the lighter Nonino for the drink to achieve its sublime balance.

- .75 oz bourbon
- .75 oz Aperol
- .75 oz Amaro Nonino
- .75 oz lemon juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add plenty of ice, and shake vigorously to chill. Strain into a cocktail coupe.


Naked and Famous

This is what happens when a Last Word riff like the Paper Plane becomes popular—you end up with a riff upon a riff, a sort of cocktail nesting doll, if you will. This one was clearly designed with the Paper Plane in mind, but instead of the natural lemon bedfellow of bourbon, you have the smoky tones of mezcal. Naturally, this allows the lime juice to re-enter the picture, while the Nonino is traded for milder Yellow Chartreuse and the Aperol is retained. The resulting drink splits the difference between the intensity of a mezcal-based Last Word and the friendly nature of the Paper Plane—and like the Paper Plane, it has a great color thanks to the Aperol.

- .75 oz mezcal
- .75 oz Yellow Chartreuse
- .75 oz Aperol
- .75 oz lime juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add plenty of ice, and shake vigorously to chill. Strain into a cocktail coupe. Optionally garnish with a maraschino cherry.


Wordsmith

There are a fair number of Last Word riffs that feature various styles of whiskey and agave (tequila, mezcal) spirits as their central base, but relatively few that are built around rum instead. I’m not sure why that is, given the fact that rum plays exceptionally well with both lime and the herbal accents that make up a Last Word. Regardless, you can simply substitute rum into most Last Word recipes for another interesting drink, whether it’s a classic Caribbean blended rum, or the bright and grassy tones of rhum agricole. This cocktail, the Wordsmith, calls specifically for punchy, funky, overproof pot still rum such as Smith & Cross. Be warned, this makes for an even boozier Last Word variant.

- .75 oz overproof rum
- .75 Green Chartreuse
- .75 oz Maraschino liqueur
- .75 oz lime juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add plenty of ice, and shake vigorously to chill. Strain into a cocktail coupe. Optionally garnish with a maraschino cherry.


Third Ward

Finally, I’m throwing in a bonus Last Word variation made with tequila, if only because I like the way it swaps in grapefruit juice for the more expected lime juice, while also softening the drink a bit by using Yellow Chartreuse instead of the stronger green. This makes for a relatively dry Last Word variant, but you can add a little bit of simple syrup if you want to smooth out its edges.

- .75 oz blanco or reposado tequila
- .75 oz Yellow Chartreuse
- .75 oz Maraschino liqueur
- .75 oz grapefruit juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add plenty of ice, and shake vigorously to chill. Strain into a cocktail coupe. Optionally garnish with a maraschino cherry.


Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.