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.