Mastering the Last Word With Paddy O’Brien

In "Masters of X," we spotlight bartenders chasing perfection in one drink. Here, Paddy O'Brien tackles the cult-favorite Last Word.

Though hardly the same object of obsession as, say, the Martini or Old-Fashioned, the Last Word plays both muse and mascot at the Astoria, Queens, bar of the same name. There, bartender Paddy O’Brien has staked a claim to the cult-favorite, serving a rotating menu of original modern riffs as well as a standout rendition of the original.

“Some might call me finicky or whatnot,” says O’Brien, who’s recipe for the Last Word is the fine-tuned result of countless combinations of the four ingredients that comprise the classic cocktail. It was also the winner of a recent PUNCH blind tasting of a dozen Last Word recipes.

On paper, it’s a blueprint that doesn’t sound like it should work: equal parts maraschino, green Chartreuse, gin and lime juice. “I like the complexities of how three pretty big flavored ingredients kind of meld together with that fresh lime juice,” says O’Brien.

Most notable in his rendition is the departure from the equal parts ratio. “It’s not something we take lightly,” he says of the adjustment, which sees the gin component bumped up to a full ounce from the standard three-quarter ounce. It’s a decision largely dictated by his gin of choice: the corn-based, juniper-forward Warwick Rustic Gin from upstate New York. “Whereas some would say the maraschino and green Chartreuse will make the choice of gin a moot point,” says O’Brien, noting the tendency for these flavors to overpower, “I would say just the opposite. The gin, whether it’s a classic London dry or a lower ABV American gin, can make all the difference and act as a bonding ingredient with the big bold flavors.”

O’Brien estimates that he tried almost all of the traditional London dry brands and many of the ever-widening field of modern craft gins, too, before settling on Warwick Gin. The spirit’s uncommon corn base is sourced from the Black Dirt region of Orange County New York, a 22-square-mile region of exceptionally fertile soil left behind by a receding glacial lake more than 12,000 years ago. The resulting gin offers boosted body and texture, but it also clocks in at a lower ABV (40 percent) than a traditional London dry gin (47 percent) prompting O’Brien to up the ratio by a quarter-ounce, “to make sure the creamy mouthfeel of the Black Dirt corn base was apparent.”

For the maraschino, O’Brien looks to Luxardo claiming, “it’s hard for me not to use Luxardo, and that’s a compliment to their product.”

With the lime and Chartreuse components intact, O’Brien further sets his version apart in presentation, opting for a Nick & Nora glass rather than a coupe. The smaller volume of the glass (and the larger volume of his drink) allows it to be served with a sidecar, solving the last issue with the Last Word. “I have mixed feelings about the maraschino cherry garnish,” says O’Brien, who offers it on the side with the last sip of the drink. “It’s my way of still garnishing it true to the original without changing the flavor of the main Last Word.”

Paddy O'Brien's Last Word

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