Heather McKearnan is a popular bartender at El Rey Court’s La Reina bar, a community favorite. The mezcal and tequila bar is part of the historic 86-room boutique hotel on Route 66 in Santa Fe. After all, it’s only fitting that a king (el rey) has a queen (la reina).
By way of background, barkeeper Heather McKearnan explains that the Last Word cocktail originated as a gin cocktail at the Detroit Athletic Club around 1915, five years before Prohibition. The likely creator was a bartender named Frank Fogarty, and the drink consisted of equal parts gin, chartreuse, maraschino liquor and lime.
McKearnan recalls that Jasper Jackson-Gleich, a La Reina bar manager, was tasked with bringing on a new cocktail. He found a 2003 version of the Last Word that substituted mezcal for the tequila. Jackson-Gleich then replaced the Chartreuse with génépy. (Génépy or génépi — genepì in Italian — is an herbal liqueur.) The resulting drink was dubbed La Última Palabra, Spanish for “the Last Word,” and it quickly became one of La Reina’s beloved cocktails.
“I fell in love with the drink,” McKearnan says, “and I am very persuasive when I love something. I’ve managed to convince many margarita drinkers to try it, even those who say they don’t love mezcal.” She adds that nearly all of those people tell her how much they love it and order another. McKearnan is partial to cocktails that have equal amounts of the ingredients because all the flavors are represented equally in the tasting profile. “They have a symbiotic relationship,” she explains.
La Última Palabra consists of equal parts mezcal, génépy, maraschino and lime juice. McKearnan serves the cocktail in handblown on-the-rocks glasses instead of traditional martini glasses and garnishes it with a Luxardo cherry. The mezcal brings smooth, buttery undertones and a smoky note that floats atop the génépy’s sage and chamomile notes. The maraschino’s sweet, stone-fruit notes balance the bitter herbs, and the lime cuts through with bright citrus. The perfect balance of acidity and sweetness results in a refreshing cocktail that’s perfect in summer, yet equally wonderful in winter. “Someday I’m going to make la Penúltima Palabra,” McKearnan jokes, “the Second-to-Last Word.”
La Última Palabra
- 1 part mezcal
- 1 part génépy
- 1 part maraschino liqueur
- 1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
Shake ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a glass that contains no ice and garnish with a Luxardo cherry. (Luxardo is an Italian brand of cherries.)
Avery Pearson loves hiking, photography, reading and nice writing implements. He seeks things of permanence from past times (e.g., fountain pens, typewriters and pocket watches). He enjoys discovering archaic words and exploring with his family, and he takes pride in growing his beard.