Anyone who enjoys a Stinger stands in good company. The cocktail is requested by Jayne Mansfield in her first on-screen appearance (beside Cary Grant) in 1957’s Kiss Them for Me and is said to have been a daily ritual for Reginald Vanderbilt. In fact, an aristocratic thread runs through the drink’s entire century-plus history, where it’s been enjoyed by industrialists, old New York society and WWII aviators.
For all its airs, the Stinger is a simple, two-ingredient cocktail calling for Cognac and crème de menthe. But those components explain its blue-blooded reputation. Many 19th century cocktails called for brandy, but Cognac was—and remains—the cream of the crop, protected by French appellation d'origine contrôlée regulations ensuring it is only made in the country’s Cognac region, twice-distilled in copper pot stills, and aged for a minimum of two years in French oak.
The sweet, minty liqueur crème de menthe explains the other half of the drink’s snob appeal—and perhaps, its downfall. Before the rise of synthetic flavorings, liqueurs were wildly expensive. But the ease of artificial flavoring led to hangover-inducing, bottom-shelf iterations, of which sticky-sweet green crème de menthe is notorious. For this reason, it’s critical that you locate a high-quality white crème de menthe made from actual mint. The bottling made by California’s Tempus Fugit Spirits, based on a 19th century recipe, is hard to beat. France’s Marie Brizard provides another good option.
The Stinger has been a personal favorite for years, but I’ve never enjoyed it in anything resembling a tuxedo. It’s more of what I’d deem a shawl collar cardigan cocktail: enjoyed late at night, on the sofa, in repose, after enjoying a wonderful meal a little too much. The liqueur gives it the feel of a highly intoxicating after-dinner mint, while the Cognac steers it clear of saccharine territory and aids digestion.
Instructions on how to make a Stinger vary wildly, in terms of volumes and practice. Traditional recipes often call for two-parts Cognac to one-part crème de menthe, while modern takes tend to dial back the liqueur. This is one of the few instances in which I pull for the sweeter version: in my mind, The Stinger is dessert.
The historical recipes have it made every which way, from stirred and strained in a coupe glass to shaken and poured over crushed ice. I prescribe an easier route: simply plonked into a chilled rocks glass over a large ice sphere and stirred for a few seconds with a finger (or a spoon, if company is present). I think this laissez faire preparation is in keeping with the Stinger’s utility—a late-night coda to an indulgent evening—but it’s paramount that the drink is served as cold as possible. To achieve this, chill a rocks glass in the freezer for at least 20 minutes ahead of time.
Lastly, there’s the question of garnish: some makers call for a single piece of mint leaf to be floated on top. That sounds lovely, but when it’s midnight and all the local mint purveyors are long shuttered, I find that a single sheet of dark chocolate pulled from the back of the pantry makes a lovely accompaniment on the side instead.
30ml white crème de menthe
Add ingredients to a chilled rocks glass with a single, large ice sphere or cube. Stir for about 10 seconds. Enjoy with dark chocolate, if available.