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A Prohibition-Era Cocktail That Won’t Make You Go Blind

A Prohibition-Era Cocktail That Won’t Make You Go Blind: Gene Danenhower

Gene Danenhower

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In this time of, as we might say, the Cocktail Renaissance, a drink will occasionally surface and quickly assume a cult-like popularity. These are “classic” cocktails in the sense that they’re old, but sometimes we appreciate them more now than the folks who created them way back when. The Remember the Maine exemplifies this. So does the Toronto. The same goes for the Detroit Athletic Club little known house cocktail, the Last Word.

A true Prohibition era cocktail, the original Last Word called for bathtub gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and fresh lime juice. The drink enjoyed a brief moment of popularity before landing itself a place in Ted Saucier’s 1951 cocktail book Bottoms Up! It then languished in obscurity until bartender Murray Stenson revived it during his tenure at the Seattle’s Zig Zag Café in 2004.

The drink is one of those rare birds in the world of mixology—an equal-parts recipe that comes perfectly balanced right out of the box, no tweaking necessary. But us bartenders can’t help but mess with perfection. Phil Ward of Mayahuel in New York—a bartender with the cojones to name a drink after himself—crafted The Final Ward, which swaps the gin for rye whiskey and the lime for lemon. And I personally receive a request for a mezcal-based Last Word several times a week at my bars.

But one of the more creative takes on the drink comes from Texas, at a bar that takes its name from the now-famous cocktail, The Last Word in San Antonio. Head bartender Joseph Hernandez stirs (yes, stirs) up an elegant version with crisp, aromatic Ford’s Gin, green Chartreuse V.E.P. (aged fifteen years), maraschino liqueur and clarified lime juice. That’s correct, clarified lime juice.

Juice clarification is a bit of a process; using agar-agar, a vegetarian gelatin made from seaweed. The agar binds to the solids of the fruit, and then can be separated, through a simple strain, from the clear liquid. The result is a nearly clear juice that has two important properties: it is much more stable, less suspect to spoilage, and it can be used in clear, spirit-driven cocktails.

Hernandez takes this tack and stirs his Last Word, a process he says gives him more control over temperature and dilution in an effort to highlight the juniper, sweet spice and floral of the gin. The result is a crisp, bold and uniquely Texan version of this Detroit classic.

THE LAST WORD

Adapted by Joseph Hernandez, head bartender at The Last Word, San Antonio, Texas

• ¾ oz. oz Ford’s gin
• ¾ oz. green Chartreuse V.E.P.
• ¾ oz. maraschino liqueur
• ¾ oz. clarified lime juice

Combine ingredients and stir with ice cubes. Serve in a chilled cocktail coupe.


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Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.


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