The Last Word

this oneProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof features a bar moment where one patron asks another, “What is that you’re drinking?” His answer: “”Chartreuse, the only liqueur so good they named a color after it.”

I confess my chief interest in The Last Word was Chartreuse. As a visual artist, I’m fascinated with color, and chartreuse is one of my favorites, a slightly gray green, but spring green not evergreen or hunter. The idea that a color comes from liqueur intrigued me, as did its history, which goes back to a secret recipe of 130 herbs, plants, and flowers given to Carthusian Monks in 1605. Chartreuse appeared commercially in 1764, which is, oh, only 250 years ago.

But, I confess, my choice was self-indulgent and not terribly considerate because, first, my brother Jonathan is color-blind (and who knows how he sees chartreuse) and second, this shit is expensive! When I visited the liquor store to buy it, I immediately emailed my brother with an apology, which I’ll make again publically now.

Sorry Jonathan, I wish I’d looked at the price before choosing it.

At least this cocktailian adventure has history to recommend it. The Last Word is a drink with recent antiquity too, invented during prohibition in Detroit, the entry point for much of the Midwest’s bootlegging—Canada was, as always, much more sensible during those years—and, at first, the drink enjoyed considerable popularity.

The Last Word largely disappeared, however, until returning in Seattle, at the Zig-Zag Café when bartender Murray Stenson found it in Bottoms Up! Ted Saucier’s 1951 bar guide. Possibly the color recommended it most, as the combination of lime and Chartreuse is a charmingly watery green, in evening light almost luminescent. Chartreuse, after all, is the drink of vampires and turns their eyes a lurid shade.

You hear me. I’m trying to sell it, working to justify the expense and trouble. Maybe I shouldn’t try so hard…

So here’s the recipe:

  • 3/4 ounce gin
  • 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 3/4 ounce green Chartreuse

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, and shake briskly for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

colorHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

The laws that govern alcohol sales in North Carolina are bizarre to say the least. First, there are still plenty of dry (no sales of alcohol whatsoever) cities and counties. Even some counties that are fairly urban are still dry with sales of any type of spirit permitted only within the cities. On-premise sales typically include beer, wine and liquor, though not always all of them. Off-premise sales allow beer and wine to be purchased from private stores while hard liquor must be obtained in state owned ABC stores.

The fun part used to be the customer service philosophy of those state run stores. When I was first of legal age, shopping for alcohol was an uncomfortable experience. The workers were trained, or so it seemed, to bring an enforcement and puritanical attitude that asked the unspoken questions “Are you old enough and do you really need that demon alcohol?” That attitude, luckily, has changed and workers are now helpful and friendly although they are still limited in the information they provide.

Why is this important? Depending on the drink and its ingredients, I try to decide if the nearby ABC store or the more helpful SC stores are my best bet. The only part of this cocktail that I did not have was the proprietal Chartreuse, so I decided that there was no need for advice nor a real cost advantage to going south. The last part, of course, based on an assumption that the 3 monks who hold the secret recipe for Chartreuse are also hard and fast capitalists who make you pay for that closely held information. Boy was I right on that one.

David compared this drink in his introduction to the Aviation. That is a fair comparison, I think, with one exception – I really liked this one. The first part that is similar to the Aviation is the amount of alcohol in the drink. The Chartreuse by itself is higher proof than the gin, and the only non-alcoholic part of the mix is the lime. The other part that is reminiscent is the odd color. The mix of chartreuse and the deep red of the maraschino give this cocktail an odd pomegranate color, or so my more color adept wife tells me. The biggest difference was the background herbal flavors of both the liqueur and the gin which mixed perfectly. The citrus of the lime, and oil from the garnish, was a nice counterpoint to that. Add in a beautiful spring day, and this was a relaxing aperitif to sip the afternoon away.

Jonathan’s take: The color and herbal depth made this different and unique. This one was worth the monk-determined value.

David’s Take: Pleasure mixed with guilt—I guess pleasure wins. As precious as Chartreuse is, it tastes good. Can’t help scratching my head over our two drinks’ color difference… but what else is new?

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I feel the need for a drink that celebrates spring and the approaching warmth of summer. Of course, I also feel the need to use my newly acquired Chartreuse. There are recipes for Chartreuse and tonic, but since the liqueur goes so well with gin and lime, I am proposing that we make a standard gin and tonic but split the gin with an equal amount of Chartreuse. Add some mint leaves and celebrate.

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6 thoughts on “The Last Word

    • The jury’s still out (and may always be out) on my favorite, but this cocktail was wonderful. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  1. How in the world did you guys get such different colored drinks from the same recipe? It does sound delicious and they’re both attractive.

    • I was a little mystified myself. My maraschino liqueur (Luxardo) is clear, but I figure Jonathan’s must not be, which, to me, is a shame because the color is one of the allures of this drink… but, as I said above, maybe it doesn’t matter so much to Jonathan. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I am sharing Will’s reply. He says that striped bass or rockfish as they’re called around here really hit on chartreuse (the color) lures, so much so that the charter fish boat captains say “If it ain’t chartreuse, it ain’t no use.” So, David, apparently fish like that color, too. And Jonathan, I guess that means they’re not color blind?

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