Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Stinger, Sanctuary Cove and High-ish Society

I came to this week’s cocktail confused and trepidatious.

The Stinger is an IBA Unforgettable, a category that usually brings me nought but delight.

Negroni. Martini. Old Fashioned. Rusty Nail. The Unforgettables make for a happy hunting ground for Shake, Stir, Muddle.

The StinReginald Vanderbiltger, however, appeared challenging.

Reliable sources tell me it was likely invented by Reginald Vanderbilt in 1923.

A rich toff with a love of the afternoon Cocktail Hour (at least until his death from alcohol-related liver failure in 1925), Reggie whipped up a Stinger in his impressive home bar and it promptly became a Society favourite.

Fancy. Posh.

Certainly it contains Cognac, definitely swanky plonk. But what of its only other ingredient?

These pages have documented what an exciting time the late 1980s were for those of us making our first forays in legal drinking.mintpattienestle

My nascent palate favoured alcohol that tasted nothing like alcohol – Island Cooler, Southern Comfort with lemonade and the Holy Grail – Crème de Menthe.

It tasted like a Mint Pattie and could be thrown back with gay abandon in the brief minutes between cracking the seal on a bottle and the violent vomiting of that which had previously been so pleasing.

Fancy? Not on your life.

Creme de Menthe greenSo what of the Stinger?

Can a cocktail containing Crème de Menthe – no matter how well-balanced by Cognac – really be considered a stamp of one’s posh credentials?

As usual, we look to the Silver Screen for our answers.

Exhibit A

The year was 1988. One of my closest school friends had just lost her mother to cancer, so we loaded our permed heads and Portman’s jodhpur-clad tails into my hatchback and headed out. Let’s see a movie, I said. Take your mind off things for a bit, I said. Maybe have a couple of laughs, I said.

Here, this movie looks good. It’s got Bette Midler in it, that’ll be funny.

That movie was, of course, Beaches.

This tale of a lifelong female friendship cut short by a type of cancer that left you curiously good-looking in your final days was just the remedy for my friend’s raw grief.

Setting aside how shit I am at choosing appropriate entertainment for the recently-bereaved, the movie gives up important clues as to the poshness of this cocktail.

Midler’s Ceece Bloom sports an expertly-bedazzled cold-shoulder chambray ensemble
and voluminous red perm in this important scene of reconciliation where Barbara Hershey’s Hillary reveals her pregnancy.

Bette Midler

In need of fortification, a Stinger is ordered.

As we know, sleek brunette pony-tail sporter Hillary was the posh one in Beaches. She does not order a cocktail. Ceece is most definitely the NOT POSH one. But she is the one to order a Stinger.


Exhibit B

1983’s Gorky Park.


Russian cop William Hurt orders a Stinger. New York cop Brian Dennehy tells him that it’s a whore’s drink. Implying that’s a bad thing.

Hard to tell which actor would win in the snazzy stakes since Dennehy has Emmys and Tonys and Hurt has an Academy Award and a BAFTA, but we’ll give it to Dennehy in this instance because it was a Cold War movie and he was playing the American.


Exhibit C

One of my favourite movies, 1956’s High Society.

High Society

As the name suggests, this is about posh people doing posh things in posh houses. With lots of drinking.

Set in Newport, Rhode Island, a playground for the uber-wealthy, Grace Kelly’s character Tracy Samantha Lord gets hammered the night before her nuptials and has a cracking hangover as she greets her wedding day.

A Stinger is handed to her by ex-husband Mr CK Dexter Haven, played by Bing Crosby, with an assurance that it’ll ease the sting – as she contemplates the shocking possibility of her wedding eve indiscretion with journalist Mike Connor.

Connor is a journalist from Spy magazine, sent reluctantly and against his journalistic integrity, to cover Lord’s society wedding. Connor is played by Frank Sinatra.

That’s right, the same Sinatra who in 1974 referred to journalists in Australia as “parasites” and the female journalists as “hookers” who he “wouldn’t pay more than a buck-and-a-half for”. Delightful.

Just to be clear, the journalists were covering his tour of Australia. Doing their jobs then.

Barnaby-Joyce.jpgDown Under we just love to show fancy American celebrities who’s boss by grounding their planes, just as our erstwhile Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, did for Johnny Depp and his illegal immigrant pooches in 2015.

In Sinatra’s case, Trade Union leaders showcased their real value by collaborating to protect workers’ dignity (rather than renovating their homes with Union fees) and grounded Frank’s Fokker.

Enter one Robert J Hawke, Head of the ACTU who negotiated what was not quite an apology from the Chairman of the Boors, but an acknowledgement that his comments had been inappropriate.

Anyway, Ol’ Blue Eyes left, vowing never to return.

This principled boycott of Australia lasted until a million bucks was thrown at him to play
at Queensland’s Sanctuary Cove in January 1988. Gore SinatraSanctuary Cove, to quote the wonderful Clive James (as we all should, as often as we possibly can), was carved out of a swamp near Surfers Paradise so the well-heeled could make themselves safe from the less well-heeled.

Much like Newport, Rhode Island in concept.

But just so not in reality (and it’s worth finding an hour to watch this Clive James show on the opening of Sanctuary Cove and Sinatra’s concert – as well as having Richard Wilkins’ hair in all its mulleted glory at 25 mins, the vulgar Mike Gore tells you everything about Queensland in the 1980s).

But back to The Stinger.

Since it wasn’t consumed by the working-class Connors but definitely did feature in a movie called High Society, that’s one mark in the posh stakes FOR the Stinger.


Exhibit D

Finally, nothing says posh like classical music.  Apparently Rachmaninoff himself,
otherwise a teetotaller, used to down a nip of Crème de Menthe to steady his nerves when playing the technically-demanding piano score on the 24th variation of Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

While not a Stinger, this is a definite quaver in favour of the posh-cred of the dodgy ingredient in the Stinger.

2-2. Final score.

And so we approached our One-for-the-Road Test of The Stinger with no definitive answer as to whether drinking it makes us actual aristocrats.

Posh girls

Leaving only taste with which to measure its worth.

Fortunately, a quick review of the ingredients before pulling out my shaker, led me to discover that there is such a thing as white Crème de Menthe.

So mixing up the 5 parts Cognac to the 2 parts Crème de Menthe skirted the virulent green nostalgia of my early drinking days. Still, tasting a drop did evoke that just-brushed-your-teeth feeling that while not unpleasant, has no place in a cocktail glass.

Shake with ice, garnish with fresh mint.

First we drink with the eye.

It pleases. White Crème de Menthe blends nicely with the Cognac to ensure this looks like a grown-up cocktail.

But the taste?

Also pleasing. Surprisingly so. Take it really easy with your Crème de Menthe pour here, it would be easy to overpower this cocktail, but there is a surprising balance and complexity in the flavours when blended correctly.

The IBA calls it an After Dinner Cocktail.  SSM had it before dinner – as Vanderbilt likely intended, Ms Tracy Samantha Lord downed one in the morning and Ceece Bloom mid-afternoon.

I’d say any of those times are appropriate for this cocktail.


I’m the Mary (Pickford)

Today is International Women’s Day.

This is a huge day for some white blokes who lament the good old days of beheading unsatisfactory wives to complain about how they don’t get a day. You do actually, 19 November is International Men’s Day, but please, don’t let that get in the way of a good rant.

But on International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate a coupla kick-arse Marys who should be thanked for their lifetime work.

As they say on Survivor, first things first. The cocktail.

2016-01-12 19.44.21
Mary Pickford

The Mary Pickford is a rum-based cocktail that, like so many other rum cocktails – the Mojito, the Daiquiri, the Cuba Libre – was invented in Cuba aka the Paris of the Caribbean during Prohibition.

In 1928, a fellow named Basil Woon, who clearly knew how to spend his time wisely, penned “When it’s cocktail time in Cuba”, describing the country as “a land where personal liberty and climate are blended in just the right setting of beauty and romance.”

Who wouldn’t want to go there? Everyone who had the coin headed south for a break and some booze, including the biggest stars in the world.

It obviously became quite a scene, with good bartenders from all over the world heading there, including Fred Kaufman, the Brit who likely created the Mary Pickford.

Imagine you’re a bartender and in walk Jay-Z and Beyoncé and she asks you to make her a cocktail.

Now multiply that by about 1000.

In 1920, Mary Pickford walked into the Hotel Nacional de Cuba with husband Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin and asked for a cocktail. Fred delivered.

You’ve likely heard of Dougie and Chuck, but Mary? Well back in the day, she was about the most famous woman in the world. And she used that fame to establish a legacy that you probably benefit from a couple of times a week.

Born in Canada, Mary was known as American’s Sweetheart and was a massive star of
silent films.

She didn’t do as well with talkies (she completely 220px-mary_pickford-ziegfeldunderestimated the impact of sound in movies, claiming that “adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo” – yeah, whoops) but shook off her poor judgement and with Fairbanks and Chaplin established United Artists in 1919.

Yes, that United Artists, bringer of such joy as Skyfall, Hot Tub Time Machine and Survivor.

Pickford, Fairbanks and Chaplin set up United Artists to gain greater control of their careers from Studios in response to what they felt was unfair control exercised by over them. It was a massive move in an industry where actors hadn’t even been credited for their work just a few years earlier.

Mary and Doug were big news though.

When they honeymooned in Europe in 1920, there were near-riots as people tried to see them.

They had a house in Hollywood called Pickfair and had amazing dinner parties in their 16 year marriage – get invited and you might expect to exchange witticisms with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Noël Coward, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt and of course Fairbanks’ bestie, neighbour and perennial third-wheel Chaplin.

Pickfair (also the inspiration for Krusty the Klown’s house Schtickfair – genius) was fkp7am5zd9gx9dxmdemolished in 1990 by dickhead actress, singer and hair product enthusiast Pia Zadora – winner of the Razzies “worst new talent for the decade of the 1980s – apparently because of termites, a claim met with wide scepticism, something that was referenced by Blondie and Iggy Pop in 1990’s Well, did you evah?.

Zadora later changed her story and claimed that the house had been haunted by a former lover of Fairbanks.

An extraordinary coincidence that this landed her flagging career a gig on an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories. Hmmm.

Mary and Doug were also among the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927 (an initiative of the Studios, so pragmatism seemed to overcome any lingering resentment there), the same year they were also the first to put their hand prints in cement at Mann’s Chinese Theatre.

That’s what I said, big deals.

Sadly Pickford died an alcoholic in 1979, so might have been a good time to change the name of the cocktail but it remains in the IBA official list of cocktails – sitting alongside the Dry Martini in the category “The Unforgettables”.

This sweet, pink offering is made up of white rum, pineapple juice (fresh, please), grenadine and maraschino liqueur.

You’ll probably get Bacardi unless you ask otherwise, but I humbly suggest that with so many superior offerings available, it is time we moved on from our misplaced loyalty to the bat-logoed turpentine which is no longer even Cuban so that justification is gone (to be fair, not Bacardi’s fault, they were driven out of Castor’s Cuba and assets seized – we covered this is more detail HERE).

Go to a good rum bar like Sydney’s Lobo Plantation and ask the bartender for a white rum recommendation.

1806 in Melbourne is going a bit rogue and making Mary Pickfords with whisked egg whites – I haven’t tried that their offering but we know that SSM loves a good egg white cocktail and I can highly recommend their other offering8331244-3x2-700x467s so I’d say go for it.

Melbourne often leads the way in Australia, just as they are with crossing signals which seems to have a whole lot of dickheads up in arms this week.

Ya know, sometimes addressing the little things is what brings about the big changes.

Like our next Mary.

When you raise your glass tonight, I suggest quoting from 1997’s under-rated cinematic 220px-romy_and_michele_s_high_school_reunionmasterpiece “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” (please can we have more of Alan Cumming and Janeane Garofalo in the same movie?) and loudly claiming “I’m the Mary.”

This is, of course a reference to Mary Tyler Moore.

Some 50 years after Mary Pickford got her signature cocktail, Mary Tyler Moore kicked off a seven season run of a sitcom that starred an unmarried career woman aged 30. What was notable about this was that she was smart, happy and successful WITHOUT a husband or children. She wasn’t a widow, she was single by choice, having left her fiancé and moved to Minneapolis and started her job as a junior television executive.

Seems astonishing that this could have been so astonishing when it first aired, the day
before my first birthday. But it

Mary asked for equal pay. Mary stayed out all night on a date. Mary used birth-control pills. Phyllis’ brother was gay.

These were big issues in the 1970s and by using humour and pathos, the show managed to gently shift some attitudes.

Mary with her fabulous pants-suits and turning the world on with her smile, showed a generation of girls that being single and having a career needn’t be a consolation prize.

It’s you girl and you should know it.

If you grew up with Mary, you had a new normal.


You also had the brilliant Sue-Ann Nivens (hands-down best television character ever created – go to THIS POST where we covered her work, watch the clip and tell me I’m wrong?), Rhoda Morgenstern, Lou Grant, Ted Baxter, Georgette Baxter, Murray Slaughter and Phyllis Lindstrom (and the ever-off-screen Lars). Great characters and actors all.

And it is still hilarious and relevant.

So on IWD, thank you, Mary Pickford for using your fame to create a new role for women in Hollywood (and for the enduring charitable legacy you created), thank you Mary Tyler Moore and Mary Richards for gently creating positive options for young women, thank you Dame Mary Gilmore for fighting for the disadvantaged, thank you Mary Wollstonecraft for being the original suffragette, thank you Mary J Blige…

Today, J’suis Mary.