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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Beautiful glass and photo! I always learn so much from these posts - thanks :)
Another excellent cocktail! I love creme de menthe, delicious :)
Always in awe of your beautiful photography!! And the mint is a very nice touch, I would definitely add it =)
Sting away! I vote for the lime juice, too!
I love the cut crystal glass - it reminds me of one my grandfather always used for his evening drink of whiskey. I'm not surprised Reggie died of cirrhosis, just a shame he was so young.
Hi Alyssa, thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Hi Natalie, if you like crème de menthe you'll definitely want to taste this cocktail! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kristi, we're lucky that the weather in St. Louis has been warm enough that we still have quite a bit of fresh mint in our garden. So using it as a garnish was a no brainer. ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Hi Abbe, the lime juice really adds a degree of complexity that I find quite appealing. But as I said, I really do like lime juice. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Suzanne, that glass is at least 100 years old — it belonged to my mother's grandmother (or maybe even her great-grandmother). And I agree it's too bad what Reggie did to himself. Thanks for the comment.
What a stunning photograph! I remember ... long ago in the 70's - stingers being quite popular during my salad-waitress days. I also remember enjoying them and haven't thought about them in - well - decades. What a lovely blat from the pat and sweet stories that accompanied this post.
Loving the stinger with extra lime juice! Beautiful presentation and photos!
I want to share the fun with you and Mrs. Kitchen Riffs! Happy holidays! :)
This sounds mighty tasty. You are the man for sure when it comes to cocktails. What will you be mixing up for Christmas!
Beautiful photos, John! When I looked at the first photo, I thought it was called Stinger because it had stinging nettle in it, and then I read that it was mint. I almost wanted to ask you where did you get stinging nettle this time of the year! :) So why it is called Stinger? Did I miss something?
Hi Claudia, this is indeed an oldie but a goodie! Thanks for your kind words, and your comment.
Hi Judy, the lime juice really does add a nice extra dimension. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Hi Kristi, Mrs K R and I do have a lot of fun, and you'd certainly be welcome! Happy holidays to you, too, and thanks for commenting.
Hi Vicki, it really is a tasty drink! Who knows what we'll decide to have for Christmas?! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Marina, no one quite knows how it got its name, but the "sting" comes from the unexpected little tingle on your tongue from the crème de menthe. It's definitely a drink worth trying. I can't believe we still have mint in our garden at this time of the year; it's even survived some pretty heavy duty frost (although it's growing in a protected place). Thanks for the comment.
It's been years but once upon a time, a Stinger was my cocktail of choice, especially this time of year -- but never with green crème de menthe. Could not abide a green tongue. :)
I'd no idea about adding lime juice, though, John. I may have to buy myself some white crème de menthe and do some experimenting of my own. Thanks for the recipe and inspiration, from one scientist to another.
What a beautiful picture and the Cocktail looks so classy! I love to hear about its history and "historiette" behind it. Congrats!
Hi John — or should I say fellow scientist? ;-) — since you once drank this on a regular basis, you know how good it can be. I really like the addition of lime juice and since you like the cocktail I think you'll find it's an interesting variation. But again, I really like lime juice so I guess I'm predisposed to enjoy anything made with lime. Not very scientific, huh? ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Daniela, glad you enjoy both the history and historiette. ;-) One of the most fascinating things about cocktail — and the reason I became interested in them — is so many of them have such color stories that surround them. Oh, and they taste good, too! Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
I didn't know anything about this drink, and you've filled in a lot of history for me. Thanks!
Hi Beth, it's a pleasant cocktail. And I always enjoy discussing history of things! Thanks for the comment.
Drink with a history :) sounds delicious! I need to organize some ideas for NYE and this is the first one on a list.
I love reading your conversation...and giggled at the part about not wanting to end up like ol' Reggie. Your middle photo is just gorgeous...I must try this sometime...I just can't imagine the taste of minty cognac.
If I drink a lot of these, will I get to be part of the limousine set? LOL
Hi Marta, it's a fun drink, so I'm sure many would enjoy it for NYE. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lizzy, it's an interesting drink, although you do need to get the ration of ingredients right for your own taste, IMO. Glad you enjoy the conversations! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, maybe! Worth a try. ;-) Or perhaps not - look where it got Reggie! Thanks for the comment.
Sounds like another perfect cocktail. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Dawn, it's a fun cocktail, that's for sure. Thanks for the comment.
Looks like a perfect treat for Christmas aperitif!
Hi Gourmantine, it is! It is! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
It looks so fancy! And the glass that you served it in is exquisite. I feel like I've been transported back in time!
Hi Jeanne, it is kind of a fancy looking drink, particularly if you serve it in a nice glass. Best of all, it's pretty tasty, too! Thanks for your comment.
The color of this drink makes me want one. What a lovely cocktail! I love the simplicity of this drink as well. Thanks for providing another cocktail idea that uses up some of the creme de menthe from the grasshopper! I hope you and Mrs. KR have a wonderful holiday season! See you next year!
Hi MJ, I figured I owed everyone another way to use crème de menthe — its uses in cocktails is somewhat limited! I hope you have a terrific holiday too. Thanks for commenting.
I've heard of a stinger but never had one. I like lime as well so I think I would probably like your last version. The drink looks wonderful in your beautiful old glass...cut crystal is so pretty.
Hi Karen, this is a fun drink. The lime really adds quite a bit, IMO. And I agree that cut crystal is good stuff. Thanks for the comment.
Great photos as usual and sounds very refreshing!
Hi Christine, thanks for the kind words, and the comment!
You are my cocktail and general alcohol expert in my book! I am certain that I have never heard of the Stinger before. It sounds interesting though! I ll ask my husband if he can make it one of these days. =) thanks for sharing!
Hi Helene, it's an interesting drink! Although it's one of those drinks that I enjoy once or maybe twice a year - it's not a regular. Thanks for the comment.
We went to a party yesterday and the host was making cocktails, so I mentioned your blog (with lots of delicious cocktail options). ;) It's nice to know you are keep adding menus in your blog!
Hi Nami, that was so kind of you to mention my blog! Thanks for that. Oh, and for commenting, too! ;-)
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