Crème de Menthe Puts the Tingle in This 1920s Society Favorite
You don’t hear much buzz about The Stinger these days. But a few decades back, it was all the rage. Indeed, in 1920s New York, the Stinger was the “it” drink. It was a particular favorite of the limousine set — and Reginald Vanderbilt’s preferred drink.
Vanderbilt — known as “Reggie” to his friends — was then a society heavyweight and heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune. Today he’s largely forgotten, but you may have heard of his daughter, Gloria, who once designed a mean pair of jeans.
Anyway, legend has it that during the daily cocktail hour — liberally defined chez Vanderbilt as 4 to 7 PM — Reggie would stand behind his ornate home bar and dispense Stingers to all. Though the cocktail originated as a sweet after-dinner drink, by the time Reggie was mixing ‘em up, the Stinger had lowered its sugar quotient, and thus seemed appropriate for pre-dinner sipping.
Alas, Reggie is no longer here to mix cocktails for us (he died at age 45 from cirrhosis). But you’ll find the Stinger easy to make. And with its minty flavor, it’s a natural for the winter holidays.
Recipe: The Stinger Cocktail
The original Stinger contained equal parts of cognac (or brandy) and white crème de menthe. Yuck! I’d find that mix undrinkably sweet. Fortunately, it evolved into a much drier drink. By the 1920s, the accepted formula was probably 3 parts cognac to one part crème de menthe, which is a pretty good drink. Even better is 4 parts cognac to 1 part crème de menthe, which is the formula I prefer. But feel free to play around with the ratio to attain the flavor you find most pleasing.
Although the Stinger is usually made with white (clear) crème de menthe, some permutations substitute the green variety. This variation is called the Emerald, or so David A. Embury assures us in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. I’ve also seen it referred to as the Green Hornet. Robert Hess likes to call it the Holiday Stinger Cocktail. I prefer to make this drink with white crème de menthe, but don’t worry if you have only the green on hand. The color will be different, but the flavor will be the same.
This drink can be served either chilled and “up” in a cocktail glass, or poured over crushed ice in a rocks glass. The recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves 1.
- 2 or 2¼ ounces of cognac (or brandy; use the first measure for a 4:1 ratio of cognac to crème de menthe, the second for a 3:1 ratio)
- ½ or ¾ ounce white crème de menthe (the first measure is for a 4:1 ratio, the second for a 3:1 ratio)
- fresh mint as a garnish (very optional and not traditional)
- Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. (See Notes.) Shake vigorously for 30 seconds or so, until the drink is cold.
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that has been chilled). Or strain into a rocks (old-fashioned) glass that has been filled with crushed ice.
- Add a mint garnish if desired, and serve. If serving in a rocks glass, add a short straw.
- The instructions specify shaking this drink, because that’s how Reggie (and others of his era) always liked to mix it. Usually when mixing clear liquids, however, you should stir rather than shake (this helps the drink retain its clarity; shaking introduces air bubbles, which cloud the appearance of the drink). So if you prefer to stir, stir away.
- You should use a decent cognac or brandy when making this drink, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend more than $15 or so. I generally use a moderately priced VSOP like St. Remy or Raynal.
- As noted above, crème de menthe is bottled as either a white (clear) or green liquid. The flavor is the same. Unless you want to make a green variation of this drink, white crème de menthe is the standard choice (and the one I used in all the pictures).
- You can find crème de menthe at almost every liquor store, in the liqueur and cordial section. The most commonly seen brands — DeKuyper and Hiram Walker — cost around $10 per bottle. The flavor of these is acceptable, and their quality is decent enough for drinks like The Grasshopper or The Brandy Alexander, where cream partially masks the flavor of the liqueur. Either of those brands is also good enough to use when trying this drink for the first time.
- If this cocktail becomes a regular for you, I suggest buying a better quality crème de menthe. The Marie Brizard brand is a good step up in quality and flavor (and costs about twice as much as the more commonly encountered brands). Bols might be another good choice. Or you could try the French “Get” brand (I’ve heard about this one, but have never seen or tasted it; it has a sterling reputation).
- If you’re using green crème de menthe to make an Emerald, you might like to try a David Embury variation: Add a dash of red pepper (such as Tabasco, presumably). Embury calls this drink The Devil.
- Embury also lists a variation of the Stinger (with white crème de menthe) that he calls the Dry Stinger. His recipe: Use the formula for a 3:1 Stinger, then add a half part of fresh lime juice. IMO it tastes even better with a whole part of lime juice (3:1:1). But then I like lime — a lot.
Taste Testing Stinger Formulations
“Not a bad drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, sipping thoughtfully on her 4:1 Stinger. “I definitely like this ratio of cognac to crème de menthe better than the 3 to 1. That’s just a bit too sweet.”
She handed the glass to me. “Same here,” I agreed, “although the 3:1 ratio would suit me as an after-dinner drink.”
As suggested in the post on Cocktail Basics, we were making one drink at a time using different ratios, and sharing it. We wanted to test several different permutations, and didn’t want end up like Reggie Vanderbilt. I drained the glass and picked up the shaker.
“What’s next?” Mrs K R inquired with eager anticipation.
“Let’s try David Embury’s Dry Stinger. The one with lime juice. That sounds refreshing.”
I shook it up and handed it over. “Mmmm,” said Mrs K R, taking the first sip and passing the glass to me, “wait until you taste this one.”
“This might be the best so far,” I said. “But do you think it could use a touch more lime juice?”
“Let’s double the amount!” she suggested agreeably. “You know, make it a 3:1:1 ratio.”
I picked up the shaker again. “My turn to have the first taste,” I said, sipping once, then twice. And then again.
“Hey, don’t drink it all!” Mrs K R protested. “Leave some for me!”
I finally handed the glass to her. “Yum!” she said. “This is right on the money.”
“Should we mix up another one to celebrate finding the best ratio of all?” I suggested, reaching for the shaker one last time.
“Yes, absolutely,” said Mrs K R, holding out the now-empty cocktail glass. “Let’s toast our success.”
As Reggie might have said: Cheers, old sport.
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