Mix it up: From the ashes of prohibition rose the phoenix of The Last Word

Philip Salter
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ALTHOUGH cocktails are a global passion, there can be no doubting which country has dominated over the years: the good ol’ US of A. This is despite the highly destructive prohibition on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933.

The unintended consequences of prohibition were profound – dodgy liquor killed by the thousand. In fact, the government purposely ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols in an attempt to stop bootleggers from selling it on. As a result, it is estimated that the US government killed around 10,000 of its own citizens. Winston Churchill was about right when he called prohibition “an affront to the whole history of mankind.”

The desperate times of prohibition called for desperate measures. Subtlety was not the order of the day – the quality of alcohol plummeted as the art of distillation was replaced by mixing in bathtubs, and getting drunk quickly became the primary goal. Under these awkward conditions the Last Word was born.

On the surface, the Last Word looks like a cocktail fit for prohibition: hard liquors mixed with little rhyme or reason.

But appearances can be deceiving. By either luck or judgement, members of the Detroit Athletic Club, which is where this classic was born, were drinking one of the best cocktails ever concocted.

These wealthy revellers didn’t have to resort to bathtub booze. The Last Word is graced by some of the best ingredients from around he world. Chartreuse is a pungent French herbal liqueur made by Carthusian Monks since 1737; maraschino is an equally powerful liqueur from Dalmatia, made from the distillation of Marasca cherries. Yet nobody in their right mind would think of mixing these ingredients in equal measure, but by a miracle of alchemy it works.

Despite its brilliance, the Last Word disappeared into obscurity after WWII. But Frank Fogarty, a famous vaudevillian monologist (stand-up comedian), introduced the drink to New York and the recipe got published in Bottoms Up!, Ted Saucier’s 1951 classic cocktail book.

In 2004, bartender Murray Stenson rediscovered the classic in an old copy of Saucier’s book. He started serving it in Seattle’s Zig Zag Café. By 2005, it was being served in New York’s renowned Pegu Club. Since then it has spanned the globe and is particularly beloved by cocktail aficionados. It may not be the last word in cocktails, but it could well leave you speechless.


■ 22.5ml London Dry Gin
■ 22.5ml Green Chartreuse liqueur
■ 22.5ml Luxardo maraschino liqueur
■ 22.5ml Freshly squeezed lime juice

■ Shake all the ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled glass