Can the Stinger Cocktail Find New Life?

The cocktail renaissance has seen its fair share of ups and downs and ebbs and flows, as bartenders and drinkers veer from complicated ten-ingredient concoctions to simple classics and back again. But there are still certain historical drinks that have yet to be truly revisited, for one reason or another. Sometimes they are unsavory mixtures best left to the annals of time, other times they are forgotten gems waiting for their moment to be dusted off and shine again. One example of a currently overlooked cocktail is the Stinger, although it depends on who you are talking to as to whether it belongs in the former or latter category.

At first glance, the Stinger is a weird drink, and one that by today’s standards doesn’t sound immediately appealing. The Mr. Boston recipe (which is representative of the drink’s 1960s and ’70s heyday) combines 0.5 ounces white creme de menthe and 1.5 ounces brandy that you shake with ice and strain into a coupe glass. You read that right — creme de menthe and brandy. Think saccharine, artificially sweetened, mint-flavored liqueur from a cheap DeKuyper bottle combined with the sweet and slightly spicy notes of a cognac or California brandy, and decide for yourself if that’s really something you’d like to try. At first glance, it’s not exactly as appealing a combination as rye and sweet vermouth, bourbon and bitters, or tequila and triple sec.

brandy cocktail rocks glass
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According to David Wondrich, author, cocktail historian, and contributor to The Daily Beast’s Half Full column and Life Behind Bars podcast, the Stinger arose from a “low-key craze” for creme de menthe, which was introduced here in the U.S. around 1890. Wondrich says there were other drinks that mixed creme de menthe and cognac throughout that decade, but it wasn’t until about 1900 that the Stinger name came about. “A ‘stinger’ was what we would call a ‘jab,'” he said, “a short, quick punch to the head.” Wondrich notes a few other peculiarities about the Stinger: “It has always been shaken, although it has no juice or eggs (such drinks are usually stirred), and for a long time it wasn’t considered a cocktail, because it had no bitters. It would be listed under miscellaneous drinks. Originally it used green creme de menthe, because the white was not yet available here. Some served it ‘frappée,’ in a cocktail glass full of shaved or finely cracked ice.”

The Stinger has not exactly come back into fashion in the way that, in recent years, other classic cocktails have, including the Aviation or Martinez. “It’s definitely not the most popular cocktail here,” said Edward Creel, director of beverage at Loews Regency New York Hotel, noting he’s only seen a handful of them served at the bar. “It’s a strong drink that survived Prohibition. During that era, many cocktails were made to mask the bad booze that was in circulation — which this cocktail can definitely hold up to. It’s been said that the cocktail was popular amongst airmen during World War II, likely for the same masking principle.”

At New York City’s new The Tavern by WS, bar manager Mark Drew relays a similar lack of customer interest in the Stinger. “I’ve only made a couple of these drinks in the last two decades of being in the industry,” he said. “One for an older gentlemen served at the bar of the Four Seasons, the other for a sommelier researching classic cocktails for an upcoming exam.” Drew attributes the Stinger’s demise to two main reasons: The decline of liqueur-driven drinks in favor of fresh fruits and herbs, and the desire to reduce sugar in cocktails. He associates the Stinger, as many do, with the ’60s and ’70s, an era full of lavish presentation and decadent sauces. “Very much the type of food experience that would require a decadent after-dinner cocktail to aid digestion,” he said. “The Stinger seems like the last usage of crème de menthe in a serious drink. Following this, the only other example of a crème de menthe-driven cocktail I can think of would be a Grasshopper.”

If you are interested in making a Stinger for yourself at home, the experts have some advice. Wondrich recommends never exceeding one part creme de menthe to three parts brandy, and suggests using VSOP cognac or better. Creel hues pretty closely to the classic recipe: 2.5 ounces brandy and .5 ounce crème de menthe white, stirred over ice, strained into a chilled cocktail glass. Drew’s version might be difficult to make at home, and he suggests a modern take using a 3:1 ratio of dry style cognac to blanc crème de menthe, and packing mint into an iSi canister with a touch of simple syrup and cognac to foam over crushed ice. “This imparts a ton of mint flavor into the cognac and has the desired effect of reducing the sugar content,” he said. “I’m partial to a hint of absinthe with this drink.”

These are extremely trying times, but once things get back to normal for us all please patronize your local bar — and maybe even order a Stinger.

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