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The Last Word with an Asterisk: variations on a classic cocktail

The Final Ward Cocktail, photo Copyright © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

When I first encountered Phil Ward’s Final Ward cocktail, I wrote it off as a “why would I do that?” type of experiment. It was, after all, just a variant of the Chartreuse and Maraschino Last Word, which didn’t make sense to me, either, on paper.

Fast forward to a recent dinner party: my sister’s cocktail request is, yes, The Last Word. Really? And that’s when I discovered that what looks like nonsense on the page turns out to be complex, delicious and seductive in real life. Thus The Last Word entered the Cold Glass repertoire.

And it got me to thinking again about The Final Ward, now in a more favorable light. Start with The Last Word (now on the Brilliant Inventions List), and make it with whiskey—maybe that wouldn’t go as far wrong as I originally thought.

After all, if you squint at the Final Ward recipe just right, you can sort of see the Whiskey Sour shining through. Perhaps Final Ward is to the Whiskey Sour as Sazerac is to the Whiskey Old Fashioned. It’s a stretch, I’ll admit, but it was enough to make me think this model might work with more than just whiskey and gin.  I figured there must be plenty of published variants.

In the end, I found only two—but they’re good ones, and they encouraged me to mix up a few experiments on my own.

The Final Ward comes first, since it holds the place of honor as the twist that inspired this search. It was designed in 2007 by Phil Ward, who tended bar at Manhattan’s Death & Co. at the time.

The Final Ward Cocktail, photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All Rights Reserved.

The Final Ward Cocktail

The Final Ward Cocktail

  • ¾ oz Rye Whiskey (Rittenhouse 100, Wild Turkey 101)
  • ¾ oz Green Chartreuse
  • ¾ oz Maraschino (Luxardo)
  • ¾ oz fresh lemon juice

Shake until very cold; double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

Ward substituted lemon for the Last Word’s lime, as any whiskey drinker would expect. It’s this change that puts the Final Ward in close company with the whiskey sour. The proportions are all wrong, of course, but the pieces are there.

It’s easy to argue that this combination works as well as the original Last Word. It may come down to whether you’re in the mood for gin or whiskey. And this works just fine with bourbon.

The second variant is the rum-based Dernier Mot. I found only a single reference to this delightful combination, the drinks menu at El Cobre in New York City. It is the Last Word made with rhum agricole—hence the French turn on the name. Having no rhum agricole at hand, I substituted Lemon Hart Demerara rum. Oh, boy… I think this one holds together even better than the Final Ward.

The Dernier Mot Cocktail, photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All Rights Reserved.

The Dernier Mot Cocktail

The Dernier Mot Cocktail

  • ¾ oz Rhum Agricole (Lemon Hart Demerara Rum)
  • ¾ oz Green Chartreuse
  • ¾ oz Maraschino (Luxardo)
  • ¾ oz fresh lime juice

Shake until very cold; double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

Lime is the preferred fruit with the rum. As in all the previous variants, short the Chartreuse a bit to balance the flavors.

So now we have the original gin, plus rye whiskey and rum. I liked the way this was going, so it was time to experiment.

It turns out that the Last Word model doesn’t work with all spirits. It’s not so good with tequila, for example—the flavors just don’t add up into a whole that’s bigger than the pieces.

And vodka? It almost works, but vodka doesn’t really bring anything to the drink, and so it just seems unbalanced, like something’s missing. Like an entire flavor component. Sort of like a string quartet without a cello.

But there is another base spirit that works astonishingly well: cognac. It’s beyond belief that no one has published this variant before, but I can’t find it—if you’ve seen it somewhere, let me know; in the meantime, I’ll mix it with a smile, and call it the Asterisk:

The Asterisk Cocktail

  • ¾ oz brandy (Remy VSOP)
  • ¾ oz Green Chartreuse
  • ¾ oz Maraschino (Luxardo)
  • ¾ oz fresh lemon juice

Shake until very cold; double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

We’re back to lemon in the Asterisk, following the lead of the Final Ward.

The Asterisk variant has a slight sweetness, a round richness, and a very cohesive flavor. The Chartreuse and the cognac seem to be made for each other. This is my favorite of the lot.

Lost for decades, The Last Word’s formula has turned out to be a versatile model. An apparent absurdity, the Chartreuse and Maraschino combination provides a seductive herbal complexity that blends extremely well with citrus and a list of spirits that extends well beyond gin.


18 Responses to “The Last Word with an Asterisk: variations on a classic cocktail”

  1. Frederic

    I don’t believe I have ever heard of a Cognac variant. I have had of gin, Genever, rye, Bourbon, tequila, mezcal, rum, and Batavia Arrack ones, but no Cognac. The closest to brandy was a Pisco one I created two years ago.

    Reply
  2. Doug Ford

    Pisco and rhubarb, that’s a very interesting combination. (And I love the name, “Final Rhuse,” very amusing.) Reminds me to be looking for the tops of my rhubarb to be peeking up real soon, now that the snow is off.

    And I’m glad you mentioned genever, I forgot to try that. I think it would work very well.

    Reply
  3. Lucas

    Flora, in Oakland, CA, has an awesome variation using a smokey Mezcal in place of the Gin. IMHO tastes better than the original.

    Reply
  4. larrymkatz

    I love the Last Word and Final Ward and look forward to trying your variations. My own preference is to seriously short the Chartreuse, as you suggest, and the Maraschino and lime, too, by changing the proportions: I double the amount of base spirit (two parts base spirit to one part Chartreuse, one part Maraschino, one part lime — or lemon, which is another interesting variation, a whole other discussion). To my taste, increasing the amount of gin (or whatever) tames the Chartreuse and Maraschino and, perhaps counterintuitively, results in a lighter, more refreshing drink. Not that I would turn up my nose and a Last/Final Word/Ward mixed to the classic proportions.

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      Doubling up the base spirit is an interesting approach to this drink, one I haven’t tried. I’ll give it a test next time. As they say, recipes are just guidelines. Thanks!

      Reply
  5. Stan

    omg just had a final ward with rye, but used a little more rye (1 1/4 oz) than the other ingredients (3/4 oz, but didn’t measure the lemon, used half a lemon) and it was AMAZING. I usually make w/ equal parts gin and the others but this far surpasses it. the spicy rye played so nicely with everything. yum!!

    Reply
  6. mikejaz2

    Stumbled onto this blog from kindredcocktails.com; made a variant using white whiskey (High West Silver OMG pure rye), and doubling the base spirit amount, as I prefer a little less sweety-soury and more whiskey flavor. Served it up, garnished with a genuine Maraschino cherry and a bit of the sticky syrup at the bottom of the glass. Fantastic! This will be entering my regular cocktail rotation this spring/summer…I can’t wait to make these for our neighborhood dining group. And, love this site as well, look forward to exploring more posts.

    Reply
  7. Christopher Chase

    I’ve only Phil’s “The Final Ward” recipe made with Yellow Chartreuse; where did you find the green version? (I’ll have to try it!)

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      Interesting that you have easy access to the yellow and not the green. In my Minneapolis market, it has been the other way around for the last two or three years, until yellow reappeared recently. I should probably try a Final Ward with the yellow Chartreuse, I think that would be interesting.

      Reply
      • Matt

        Just made a Final Ward for the first time using Bulleit Rye and garnished with some fresh lemon verbena. Now that is a great drink for the beginning of May. Thanks for these recipes. I might try to make a Grand Marnier variant instead of regular cognac, using lemon instead of lime.

        Reply
  8. Chuck Cogan

    First post here for me….
    Me and my wife are quite new to the cocktail game, basically just started a few months ago.
    We have tried the original Last Word a few times and we like the herbal complex taste of it, just never thought about switching out the Gin for any other base spirit. But after reading this i just had to try it with Rum, although we have no Rhum Agricole i went with our favourite Rum – Angostura 1919.
    And i have to say it works really very well.
    The Rum sure comes through, so does the Chartreuse and the lime ofcourse…the only thing that gets to take the backseat here is the Maraschino, even though you can smell it the taste is a bit hidden.
    But all in all a great tasting cocktail, both in its original form and now the Rum variation.

    Reply
    • Doug Ford

      It’s fun that you and your wife are starting a cocktail discovery, and I’m delighted that you are experimenting with Last Word. The Angostura rums are still on my todo list, and now I have a little nudge to learn about them sooner rather than later.

      Thanks for the motivation, and for taking time to add to the conversation.

      Reply

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