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A gin cocktail with Chartreuse.

The Last Word, a Prohibition-era gin cocktail, was created at the Detroit Athletic Club during the 1920s. Frank Fogarty, “the Dublin Minstrel,” a famous vaudeville comedian, discovered the drink there and brought the recipe with him to New York. It was first written down in Ted Saucier’s famous cocktail recipe book, Bottoms Up, in 1951.

The use of Chartreuse, an herbal French liqueur, is important to this drink. If you haven’t had Chartreuse, you are in for a treat. Chartreuse is a very old liqueur that dates back to 1605. The story goes that King Henry IV’s artillery marshal presented a recipe for an ancient elixir that claimed to give the imbiber long life to the Carthusian monks. The recipe was super complex, blending 130 different herbs and botanicals in an alcohol base, and it took the monks until 1737 to decipher and perfect the recipe at their headquarters at the Grande Chartreuse monastery in southeastern France.

Originally intended for medicinal purposes, today the liqueur is drunk straight and very cold or in cocktails, like this one. The Chartreuse monks still use the same ancient recipe to create the spirit in their distillery in France and, to protect the recipe, it’s said that only two or three monks know how to prepare the different parts of the herbal mixture at any given time. 

THE LAST WORD

INGREDIENTS:
1 ½ oz. gin
½ oz. lime
½ oz. maraschino liqueur
¾ oz. Chartuese 

INSTRUCTIONS:
Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

A kicky Prohibition gin cocktail.

The expression “the bee’s knees” came about in the 1920s and means the height of excellence or the cream of the crop. It was 1920s slang. No one is completely certain where the saying comes from, but one theory is that it’s derived from the use of the letters “B” and “E” in the idiom “the be-all and end-all,” which also denotes the very best of something.   

Another thought is that perhaps it refers to a popular dancer of the day, Bee Jackson. Bee was a world champion Charleston dancer who danced all over the world. She didn’t invent the dance, but no one danced it better than Bee. She was quite a character. She once punched the king of Albania in the nose. There was no explanation as to why that happened (though the king was reputed to be a notorious womanizer), but I’m sure Bee had a very good reason. She died at the age of 25 of a ruptured appendix. 

Back to the cocktail. The Bee’s Knees is a Prohibition drink. It was created to help mask the taste of the bathtub gin. The recipe was first seen in print in 1930. And after drinking one of these, you’ll be kicking up your heels just like Bee.  

Here’s a tip for making this drink: Make your own honey syrup by heating one part water together with one part honey.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ oz. gin 
  • ½ oz. honey syrup 
  • ½ oz. lemon syrup

Recipe:

Add all ingredients into a shaker. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

A warming after-dinner (or pre-dinner) drink.

Brandy, one of the world’s first distilled spirits, has been around since Roman times. With a name taken from the Dutch word “brandewijn,” meaning “burnt wine,” brandy was originally developed as a way to preserve and store wine for long ship journeys. To lighten the liquid and lessen the shipping tax, which was calculated by volume, the wine was distilled, concentrated and then put into wooden casks for transport.

Once the distilled wine reached its destination, water would be added back in to reconstitute the drink. But people found the spirit, which had been unintentionally aged in the wooden shipping casks during the journey, was better than the original.

For some reason, brandy is often overlooked in favor of vodka or whiskey when making cocktails — unless you live in Wisconsin, where a brandy Old Fashioned is the unofficial state drink. But brandy makes a great cocktail base, and will warm you right up on a cold winter night.

The Brandy Fix was a popular drink in the 1860s. A “fix” is a type of drink made on the rocks with a spirit, lemon juice and fruit juice or liqueur. Jerry Thomas was the first to write down this recipe in his Bon-Vivant’s Companion, published in 1862. This is one of my favorite drinks to have during the holidays and is very easy to make.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. brandy
  • ½ oz. lemon juice
  • ½ oz. cherry brandy or Cherry Heering
  • 2 bar spoons (about 2 tsp.) triple sec

Instructions:

  1. Build ingredients in an Old Fashioned glass over ice. 
  2. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Photo by Jesse Fox