When it comes to the revival of Prohibition-era cocktails, The Last Word is, well, the last word. Seattle mixologist Murray Stenson of Zig Zag Café is credited by many with repopularizing the chartreuse drink.
In cocktail geekdome, few drinks get more discussed and dissected than The Last Word, a once-forgotten classic resurrected in Seattle that has crossed the Atlantic and is now showcased in bars as far away as Sydney, Australia.
Many leading cocktail authorities, including historian Paul Clarke of Seattle and author Robert Hess of Lake Forest Park, have declared The Last Word the definitive Seattle cocktail; they say the pale green concoction is undisputedly Seattle’s biggest contribution to the world of mixology.
When it comes to flavor, the drink with the declarative swagger of a moniker lives up to its name. Made with gin, fresh squeezed lime juice, maraschino liqueur and green Chartreuse, The Last Word is a balance of sweet-and-sour with a robust herbaceous tone.
If it were a wine, it would be a full body red.
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The Last Word is a prohibition-era drink, which originated at the Detroit Athletic Club and had gotten lost over the decades.
Five years ago, Seattle bartender Murray Stenson discovered it while rifling through old cocktail manuals for obscure drinks to put on the menu at Zig Zag Café.
Considered one of America’s top bartenders, Stenson found The Last Word in “Bottoms Up!” by Ted Saucier, a 1951 bartender’s guide that is so old it was bound together by packaging tape.
The drink became a cult hit around Seattle, then Portland and was eventually picked up at cocktail dens in New York City, where many bartending trends are set. The Last Word then started to appear on drink menus in Chicago and San Francisco and spread to several cities in Europe — especially around London and Amsterdam — and beyond.
Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Club in New York City, one of the nation’s top cocktail lounges, declared The Last Word “one of the best drinks I have. God bless Murray.
“I love the sharp, pungent drinks, and this has a good bite,” she said. “It’s a great palate cleanser. And it’s perfectly balanced: A little sour, a little sweet, a little pungent.”
Ryan Magarian, a cocktail consultant from Portland, believes that the public, more educated in food and wine now than in the past, wants a more complex drink.
“The Last Word is that drink,” said Magarian. “It’s not a Cosmopolitan. You’ve got to chew on it a bit. It’s not part of the standard flavor profile for the average drinker. I would think that first sip of The Last Word would come as a shock, but a pleasant shock.”
Magarian, who tracks cocktail trends, said The Last Word has started to appear even in cocktail lounges Down Under, in Sydney.
In Seattle, outside of cocktail aficionados, The Last Word remains unknown to the mainstream. It appears on few drink menus. But like an Old Fashioned or Aviation, it’s become a drink that local mixologists well versed in classic cocktails know how to make.
Because Stenson, a Queen Anne resident, is credited with reviving this classic, The Last Word has become a source of Seattle pride among local bartenders. In the process, it has become a metaphor for creating a legacy cocktail.
Historian Clarke said, “You often hear some of the best bartenders around town use this casual phrase: ‘I was developing this drink, and I was hoping this could be my Last Word. ‘ “
The Last Word has spawned variations, the most famous being The Final Ward, from acclaimed bartender Phil Ward of New York City, who substitutes gin and lime with rye whiskey and lemon.
But to Stenson, this lost classic has a following because it’s perfect as is. “The Last Word,” Stenson said, “is, well, the last word.”
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