The ancient Romans considered February the last month of the year. Rife with ideas of purity and rejuvenation, the old thinking decreed spring began on the fifth day of Februarius. Lucky for the Caesars, winter in central Italy tends not to be as harsh as it is in the Northwest, so it was reasonable to conceive of February as a springtime month. Even here in the high desert, our weather seems to have turned for the better in recent days and, in celebration of its continuing improvement, we tied one on during a spell of Sunday sunshine with a few springish concoctions characterized by herbaceousness and complexity.
The Last Word
Ounce for ounce, this is a super spendy tipple—but worth every dime. Built from equal parts Bombay gin ($19.95), Chartreuse ($30.95 for a 375 milliliter bottle), Luxardo maraschino liqueur ($34.95) and the juice of a fresh lime (less than $1), we'd suggest mixing up a batch of these bad boys for a special occasion: an afternoon croquet match, a Great Gatsby party or anywhere people wear white pants. Shaken and served in a stemmed cocktail glass (we used grandma's fancy punch service), The Last Word looks a lot like absinthe owing to the vibrant green of the Chartreuse—an herbal liqueur made by the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in Grenoble, France since the 1730s. At 55 percent alcohol, Chartreuse belongs in a class with the Green Fairy, so don't underestimate it (according to the Associated Press, the monkish booze was an element of Hunter S. Thompson's daily debauchery). The Last Word—which was invented at the Detroit Athletic Club and entered into the Ted Saucier cocktail book Bottoms Up! in 1951—burns but doesn't hurt, and it has a slight oiliness with a hint of melon on the back. The herbs rounded up by the monks in the Chartreuse Mountains are reminiscent of Fernet and will have your umami taste buds firing on all cylinders. We're not sure what the boys at the DAC were playing when they came up with The Last Word, but we would gladly join the team.
Even older than The Last Word, the Floradora harkens to the bright lights of the Great White Way. Named after the 1899 Broadway musical comedy Floradora, which starred a sextet of sensational chorus girls who all ended up marrying millionaires, the drink of the same name marries 1.5 shots of Bombay gin with ½ ounces of fresh lime juice and ½ oz. of raspberry syrup. We're far from millionaires, so we eschewed buying raspberry syrup in favor of muddling fresh berries in a martini glass. We shook the gin and lime juice, poured it over the berries and topped it off with ginger ale. In the glass, it turned a milky rose color, hinting at how smoothly the lightly sweet Floradora would go down, even with its ginger bite, gin punch and hint of fibrousness from the crushed raspberry seeds. Some sources suggest straining the juice and adding simple syrup, but the ginger ale added plenty of sweetness. The Floradora has been called the first "girly" drink, but we call B.S.—it's a gin-rific cocktail with a complexity belying its simple ingredients. Perfectly refreshing and easy to mix, the Floradora tastes the way a warm spring breeze feels.
Pimm's and Ginger
After a Last Word and a Floradora, we were feeling a little spirited and with a fifth of Pimm's No. 1 ($19.95) on hand, it only seemed natural to pour a healthy shot of the British liqueur over ice and add a few dashes of Angostura orange bitters, a squeeze of lime and a topper of ginger ale. Dating from 1823, Pimm's is a long-loved spirit famous for being a favorite sipper on the sidelines of Wimbledon; and, while there are whole societies devoted to the proper mixing of the eponymous Pimm's Cup (Pimm's, cucumber, lemon and soda water), we like to experiment. We've had Pimm's and lemonade, Pimm's and orange juice, Pimm's and tonic and Pimm's on the rocks. Mixed with ginger ale, however, the dense sugars play with the hard edges of the ginger and bitters, and the lime lightens up the whole production. In retrospect, we probably should have used lemon, but whatever. At 25 percent alcohol, Pimm's is a much more sessionable liquor than anything in a Last Word or Floradora but overdo it, and you're in for a imperial hangover. We overdid it, of course, and even fortified the mix with a jigger of Bombay. The best strategy is to get a little exercise first—like a spring afternoon walk—and sip a Pimm's (sans gin) as your reward.
We'd make every one of the aforementioned cocktails again (and probably will once we recover from the effects of both the booze and the bill), but a clear favorite emerged. The last word on The Last Word: It's a true classic, earning every bit of its old-school cachet, although it's a little too stiff for a springtime afternoon. More than one may turn a Jekyll into a Hyde. Pimm's is always a solid choice but for our purposes (and our morning after), it was a tad too sugary with our addition of ginger ale. The Floradora earned our applause for its slightly sweet stiffness and general sense of airy nonchalance—the liquid distillation of a springtime mood.