Making a Stinger, the minty cognac cocktail with as much punch as you like

Making a Stinger, the minty cognac cocktail with as much punch as you like
Courtesy of Hennessy

The two ingredients are simple, but how you use them can make all the difference.

We need to resolve the issue of what the Stinger is and what people think it is before we can discuss it in depth.

A stinger is a part of a bee that sucks. The word conjures up images of missiles, or some minor routine torture that older brothers inflict on their siblings. In most cases, stinger refers to the part of a bee that stings. A stinger usually conveys a swift, sharp strike.

If you think you know much about the Stinger cocktail, compare this with what you think you know. If you have ever heard of crème de menthe, you probably think it is something soft and sweet and hopelessly old. Once you hear “creme de menthe,” I can feel your imagination becoming sepia-toned. But why is it named after such a soft punch to the head if it's so soft?

Stings, contrary to popular belief, are indeed stingy. With only two ingredients, this cocktail is similar to a Mint Julep more so than a Grasshopper, as it is composed of creme de menthe, mint liqueur, and Cognac. Stinger isn't a relic and it isn't sweet, or at least it doesn't need to be. It is just like a Cognac Old Fashioned with more alcohol in place of the part that isn't alcohol in Old Fashioneds. I want to hang out with your great grandmother if that still sounds like something for her.

In spite of the fact that it is about as difficult to make as a vodka soda, the Stinger can be an incredible drink, strong, rich and cooling. Despite being a cocktail from around the turn of the century, its origin is unknown; even the most diligent cocktail historians have no idea who invented it, and in any case, it doesn't really matter. It's all about how to make it, but now we've got a new problem: Not too little information, but too much.

Stinger recipes have been published by a lot of people, and all agree on the ingredients and garnishes, but the ratios and preparations are all over the place. Due to space constraints, I will not list the recipes themselves, but I think of Death & Co, Jim Meehan's Bartender's Guide, and David Wondrich's Imbibe as my favorite sources of classic cocktail information. Each of these sources has a recipe for a Stinger, and each one is slightly different from the next.

Can you tell me if the Stinger is a sweet shaken drink with equal parts Cognac and liqueur, or if it's a dry stirred Cognac drink with little creme de menthe? Do you serve it on crushed ice, on cubed ice, or without ice at all?

Taking all this into account, I present three options for three different Stingers. No matter what you are in the mood for or what century you are in, there is a Stinger for you, no matter what you are in the mood for or where you are in the course of your evening.

The Middle Way

  • 2.25 oz. Cognac
  • 0.75 oz. creme de menthe

In a rocks glass over crushed ice, combine all the ingredients and stir for a couple of seconds before garnishing with a mint sprig and enjoying the drink.

My favorite version of the Stinger is this version, sufficiently dry enough to avoid confusion with a dessert cocktail, but still very flavorful. As a matter of fact, I do not recommend shaking the Stinger, because it is an all-booze beverage that is not diluted enough to make it taste any different. However, I do not recommend it, because it thins out the texture and makes it all a bit strange. The objective of those recipes is to ensure a healthy amount of dilution, which is exactly what they are aiming for. Crushed ice solves that problem perfectly well. It should be noted that this cocktail is almost immune to overdilution: The longer the drink sits on the crushed ice, the better it will taste.

The Cognac Old Fashioned with a hint of Mint

  • 2 oz. Cognac
  • 0.25 oz. creme de menthe

The ingredients should be added to a mixing glass with ice and stirred well. Strain into a cocktail glass without ice and garnish with a mint leaf.

The Stinger build, taken mostly from Jim Meehan's Bartender's Guide, is the most subtle of the builds, with the creme de menthe subdued to the point where the minty exhale on what is otherwise an Old Fashioned with Cognac. Any time an Old Fashioned is needed, which is pretty much anytime after sundown, this is a great substitute.

Dessert for Someone Named Gertrude

  • 1.5 oz. Cognac
  • 1.5 oz. creme de menthe

In a rocks glass over crushed ice, combine all the ingredients and stir for a couple of seconds before garnishing with a mint sprig and enjoying the drink.

A Stinger cocktail is often considered to be the closest thing to what most people envision when they think of a Stinger, which is sweet, minty, and very refreshing. It is designed as the final cocktail that one should have on any given night, as it is the mixological equivalent of brushing one's teeth.


Courtesy of Cognac Reverie


The Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac in this drink is the perfect combination of price and taste, a slightly higher proof version specifically designed for cocktails. If that doesn't work, you need to use a richer style of Cognac, because a cocktail that is too light will lack depth, but it won't be bad. In this drink, one of the only drawbacks is that some Cognacs have an earthy taste that clashes with mint. The Ferrand appears to work well with this drink, but some other great brands such as Frapin don't seem to.

If you want your Stinger to work, you must buy a good brand of creme de menthe, because a cocktail with only two ingredients needs to be great, so it will depend on which brand you choose. Tempus Fugit Creme de Menthe or Giffard Menthe-Pastille are the liqueurs I have had and recommend. If you are planning to make Stingers, it is worth the effort to get the good stuff, since it can be difficult to just happen upon it.

I tried all of them and they're all pretty good, but they're not better. Some recipes call for some gin to be spliced in, or some simple syrup or orange bitters or absinthe. In other words, rather than recruiting ingredients that don't belong, calibrate your Cognac and creme de menthe so that they work together exactly the way you want them to, and it will be more satisfying and delicious. Spend more time on the jokes than on the laugh track.

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