Yesterday I quoted the inimitable Maya Angelou who said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Just to show I am not just writing stuff to hear myself type and to prove that on some level I buy into my own bullshit, I have to rectify an error, really more of an omission, that I made, or in the case of the omission, did not make. I was doing my best, but I did not know any better. Now, I have learned better, so I am going to try to do better. So, in that spirit won’t you join me now as we stand and make the classic Stinger.
This is an old drink and one that any cocktail aficionado should be familiar with on some level. It first appears in Jaques Straub’s 1914 “Drinks” and was originally created by Reginald “Reggie” Vanderbilt, allegedly. Reggie was the great grandson of the railroad magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the father of fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt and the grandfather of Anderson Cooper. Reggie was also a bit of a mixologist and entertained guests in the home bar of his 5th Avenue mansion. When I say “home bar” it should be clear that I am speaking about the large room in his home, modeled after the Conqueror Tavern in Normandy, France. If one can believe the stories one hears, this drink was invented one evening in this quaint little “home bar”, where he, allegedly, held court every day from 4 to 7. We should all be so lucky.
Though the creator appears to have lived a complicated life, this drink is exceptionally simple to make. In fact, if not for the obvious skill and panache of the mixologist, this one would barely be considered a cocktail at all, with only two ingredients and minimal garnish. But as Goethe said, “It is working within limits that the craftsman reveals himself” or herself, naturally. So grab your mixing pitcher and set about perfecting your craft. First pop in 2 ounces of Cognac, I used Hennessy and 3/4 of an ounce of clear creme de menthe. Then add some artisanal ice and stir to the sounds of “I Was Brought to my Senses” by Sting, who got his nickname “Stinger” because of a yellow and black sweater he used to wear to practice. See? It all ties in. When your drink is well chilled and a bit diluted, strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice and garnish with some fresh mint. That glass full of crushed ice is key here. One, it makes the drink very cold, which it needs. At room temp this stinger would bite, but around freezing it is lovely. Also, ice was a bit of a luxury when this one was invented so being able to show off in your home bar that was nicer than many commercial establishments, with that big mound of crushed ice would have been a bonus.
In 1956 when Hollywood was running out of ideas for the first time, they decided that what the world really needed was musical remake of The Philapdelphia Story under the title High Society. Among the several hundred drinks enjoyed by the cast, Bing Crosby describes this one to Grace Kelly, saying, “It’s a Stinger. It removes the sting.” I think he was right. This is booze forward but not unpleasant at all. It is sweeter than I expected, very nice indeed. I would not want to drink them all night, but it might be a nice wake me up drink halfway through a long night of drinking, cigar smoking and monocle wearing in your bosom pal’s home bar.
So that is the abbreviated history of the classic cocktail known as the Stinger. A drink that I clearly had absolutely no knowledge of a couple of months ago when I presented the Midnight Stinger, which is obviously a riff on this original drink. To be fair, after I presented the provenance of that drink, I was honest and admitted that I had no idea where the drink’s name came from or what it referred to. I did not know any better, at the time. Luckily, I spend my evenings reading ancient tomes of cocktail wizardy, whilst sitting in the corner of my home bar, which is modeled after no existing tavern anywhere at all and basically consists of a couple of shelves and a mobile bar cart. So, when I say sitting in the corner of my home bar, I actually mean sitting sort of adjacent to where I store the things I use to make drinks in my kitchen. It’s not quite the same, but still, I sit there and read and absorb knowledge and make lists of things to try and share with you, gentle readers. One evening while engaged in these labors, I stumbled across this drink and immediately saw the folly of my ways. Obviously, I should have presented the Stinger first and then come back with the Midnight Stinger at a later date to show off the depths of my cocktail knowledge, but that is not how things turned out. Instead, we gather here tonight to read this paean to my stinger ignorance and my hopeful tale of eventual redemption. Now I know better, so I am going to do better. We should all be so lucky. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.