A classic gin cocktail gets a mezcal makeover: The Penultimate Word

by Terry B on January 31, 2018

Inspired by the gin-based Last Word cocktail, mezcal gives a nice smokiness to this citrusy drink featuring lime juice, maraschino liqueur and simple syrup. Recipe below.

The Penultimate Word

Random finds always seem lucky for us. On our road trip to DC and the Virginias last fall, our first overnight stop was in Pittsburgh. We ate dinner that night at Bar Marco, in the city’s Strip District, a cool little neighborhood on the edge of downtown—converted warehouses filled with old and new food and retail shops, restaurants and bars, and sidewalks clogged with street vendors. We went there because, randomly, just before our trip, while Marion was getting a haircut, I flipped through an issue of GQ. It had an article on where to eat and drink in Pittsburgh that included the phrase “inventive yet unpretentious cocktails at Bar Marco.”

go-to-the-recipeThe host offered us a precarious little table near the door, but we opted for two stools at the bar. I’ve mentioned here before how we like to do the bartender’s challenge, specifying a liquor and describing a taste profile, then letting the bartender create something. At Bar Marco, that’s an actual thing. They call it Bartender’s Choice. I picked a gin and asked for something citrusy, summery and a little herbal. Marion asked for the same thing, but with mezcal. My drink was good, but Marion’s was so good, we had the bartender make another one for us to share.

He based it on a classic gin cocktail, the Last Word. Invented before Prohibition at the bar in the Detroit Athletic Club, it is typically made with equal parts gin, maraschino liqueur, Green Chartreuse and lime juice. Besides swapping mezcal for gin, we didn’t see exactly how he made the drinks. And they were potent enough that we wouldn’t have remembered anyway. But we knew we would try to make something based on our somewhat foggy memory of it.

By we, I mean Marion. Shortly after we returned from our trip, Luxardo Maraschino was acquired. As was Sombra Mezcal. The former is a cherry liqueur made in Italy from an 1821 recipe. The latter, created in 2006 by a master sommelier in Oaxaca, Mexico, was a 2016 double gold winner in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. There are other maraschino liqueurs and mezcals out there, but these are ones we’re liking now.

Occasionally, on a weekend night, Marion went to work with these and other ingredients, not trying to duplicate Bar Marco’s concoction, but to create something smoky, citrusy and sippable. A straight up copy of the classic Last Word was far too sweet. And eventually, Green Chartreuse was dropped from the mix.

Then the other night, this cocktail came together. Based on the Last Word, but only sort of. We dubbed it the Penultimate Word, the next to the last word. Partly because that’s what it is, almost the last word—and partly because we know we will both continue to tinker with it. But as it is, it’s pretty darn good.

The Penultimate Word
Makes 2 cocktails

3 ounces mezcal
1 ounce Luxardo Maraschino
1-1/2 ounces fresh lime juice (see Kitchen Notes)
1 ounce simple syrup

cherries for garnish (optional)

Put mezcal, Luxardo, lime juice and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker with some ice. Shake until thoroughly chilled, 30 seconds or so. Strain into two coupe glasses. Add garnish, if you like. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

To squeeze or not to squeeze. We’ve always dutifully squeezed limes for fresh lime juice, but we recently saw a bartender using bottled fresh lime juice. It was a real aha moment for us. Unlike lemons, fresh limes are so unpredictable in terms of how much juice they’ll produce. For us, the bottled stuff is an awesome, convenient find, but either works great and delivers the taste.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John / Kitchen Riffs January 31, 2018 at 8:30 am

The Last Word is a good drink. And your variation looks SUPERB! Really nice flavor profile. Gotta try this. :-) Thanks so much.

Dani H January 31, 2018 at 8:08 pm

Love the wit of your name for this and it does sound scrumptious. A must try!

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