A Gesture Toward the Season

Good Lord, is it December already? Thanksgiving breezed by, and since then major work issues have kept me glued to the phone and computer, doing unpleasant yet unavoidable tasks, for near every waking moment. And now, blast it, it’s Christmas–time to be stringing lights and mixing eggnog, elbowing shoppers in a department store and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas (I’m doing it to bond with my kids, of course), and not stuck to a keyboard trying to sweat my way through a deadline.

But while it’s a few days until I can completely slough off these distractions and fully embrace the holiday spirit, I can still take a Friday night to tip a glass to the season. And when Christmas rolls around, there are few drinks finer for an evening tipple than the Stinger.

Like signet rings and school ties, Stingers were once a badge of the upper-crust. But then, according to Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, it found new popularity among pilots during the Second World War. Once the riff-raff got hold of it, the Stinger was fair game for anyone looking for a post-prandial bracer or a nice, mellow nightcap.

Mixed properly–which is quite easy, given there are only two ingredients–the Stinger is a very agreeable character to have around. It’s also quite flexible; while most recipes call for brandy, I’ve seen (but not tried) versions made with gin and vodka, and I’ve grown quite fond of those made with dark rum or bourbon (the latter is sometimes called a “Dixie Stinger,” though since the name is obscure and sounds like a stripper’s pseudonym, I’ve been apprehensive about ordering one in a public establishment). My personal favorite nowadays is a bourbon stinger made with Maker’s Mark, the soft, wheaty character of the whiskey functioning perfectly with the smooth taste of mint.

Key to preserving the Stinger’s charm is a gentle hand with the creme de menthe. While most bar manuals call for proportions as great as 2:1 (a few older ones even call for equal parts), a 4:1 ratio, or one even drier, is usually all that’s needed to give your base spirit a gentle touch of mint. And when mixing a Stinger, keep in mind that this is the one all-liquor drink that is best prepared shaken rather than stirred–the mint functions better in a drink with near-arctic chill, and the heaviness of the liqueur is somewhat lightened by the bubbles. While Stingers are perfectly acceptable when served straight-up, pouring them over crushed ice helps preserve the cocktail’s frigid flavor.

Tomorrow, back to work. Tonight, though, it’s time to think about my gift list and entertain thoughts about the coming holidays.


  • 2 ounces brandy (make mine with bourbon; rum is also nice)
  • 1/2 ounce (or less) white creme de menthe

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass, or into Old Fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a mint leaf, if you’ve got one lying around.

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6 Responses to A Gesture Toward the Season

  1. Blech!
    I’ve seen the Stinger in so many books and thought I give it a go last night as it’s a quick and easy classic cocktail.

    Once again, BLECH!! The mint just doesn’t agree with me. Could be that it’s a cheap product, but I doubt it.


  2. PS And I only did a 1/4 ounce of (green) creme de menthe with 2 ounces of brandy.

  3. Rich,

    Sorry the Stinger didn’t agree with you–though, as I understand it, the difference between white creme de menthe and green is more than just a matter of color…in my admittedly imperfect opinion, the green has greater viscosity, and its taste is sweeter and less bright than the white version. Of course, it also comes down to the brand (I don’t know what kind you’re using)–here in Seattle, DuKuyper is about the only thing on the shelf, and it’s…..ok. But I tried a Stinger once with the imported French Marie Brizard creme de menthe, and the difference was astounding–much more of a fresh mint taste, as if the liqueur actually had some relation to those leaves I was cramming in mojitos way back in the summer.

    So, before you write off the Stinger as a lost cause, try one with a white creme de menthe, and maybe try a different brand–I’m loathe to let this one go, because at this time of year, it holds a special place in my heart.

    Thanks for the note, and happy holidays–


  4. The stinger rocks! We drink them while up in Northern Wisconsin, which is brandy country. The 4:1 ratio is about correct. You don’t want to use too much *white* creme de menthe. (Sorry, but who’d ever use green?!) The tavern we go to who makes the best brandy stingers shakes them, pours the mix on the rocks…and are you ready…floats a few hazelnuts on the top. The best!

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