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 Stinger, 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.
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.
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.
So 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.
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.
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.
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.
One of my favourite movies, 1956’s 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.
Down 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. Sanctuary 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.
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.
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.