Friday, July 6, 2012

The Stinger and the Playboy Millionaire

More and more I'm finding out that cocktails and history seem to go hand in hand. The Stinger as a perfect example of this. The Stinger is an old school type of cocktail that is linked with old New York money. Though the cocktail had been known during the early 1900's, it wasn't until a wealthy, hard-drinking, gambling sportsman playboy of the last name of Vanderbilt that made it famous.

Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt (1880-1925) was the youngest son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, grandson of William Henry Vanderbilt, and great- grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. He is also the father of famous fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt. Reginald (Reggie to his friends) loved the fast life: horses, automobiles, gambling and drinking at a time when drinking had been made illegal because of the National Prohibition Act (1919-1933).

According to the New York Social Diary listing for Laura And Harry Cushing (Great-grandson to Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt):
Reginald Vanderbilt was one of the most famous playboys of his day. Today he’d be diagnosed a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic, and coming from the wealth that he came from, he’d probably be in, on his way to, or on his way out of re-hab. Unfortunately such opportunities were unavailable in those days to even men as rich and privileged as Reggie Vanderbilt. So instead he drank and gambled away about $25 million (think a half billion in today’s dollars) and died in 1925 at age forty-five.
Told you gals and guys that I like a good backstory. But how does the playboy link to the Stinger? As I stated before, it is believed that the Stinger had been known in the early 1900's but it took a profile of the aforementioned Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt to bring the Stinger to light.

In his book "Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar" author David Wondrich mentions that in a 1923 profile of Vanderbilt, Reggie described the Stinger as follows:
(The Stinger) is a short drink with a long reach, a subtle blending of ardent nectars, a boon to friendship, a dispeller of care.
Because of who Vanderbilt was, Wondrich believes that The Stinger has always been considered a "Society drink". Here is the cocktail as listed in Mr. Boston's Official Bartenders Guide 75th Edition:
The Stinger
1.5 oz. brandy
.5 oz. white crème de menthe

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass
I'm also reading "Boozehound: On The Trail of the Rare, The Obscure and the Overrated In Spirits" by Jason Wilson and he has a bit of a variation for the Stinger. Wilson is the Spirits columnist for the Washington Post and based on his research into Vanderbilt and how he liked his Stinger Wilson says that the addition of a dash of Absinthe to the Stinger with Cognac instead of Brandy creates the preferred drink of Vanderbilt know as the Stinger Royale. Here is the recipe as per Wilson:
Stinger Royale
2 oz. cognac
.5 oz. white crème de menthe
1 dash of absinthe
Lemon peel twist, for garnish

Fill a shaker two-thirds full with ice. Add the cognac, crème de menthe, and the absinthe. Shake well, then strain into either a chilled cocktail glass (if you like being correct) or into an old-fashioned glass with 3 or 4 ice cubes (if you like a nicer drink). Garnish with the lemon peel twist.
Now is there a difference between using cognac as opposed to brandy? This article Cognac by George Delgado does a good job explaining the difference. The short story is that a brandy and a cognac are basically the same, the difference is that order for a Brandy to be called a Cognac, it needs to be produced in the designated growing areas in the Charentes region of France. This Cognac region is located just north of Bordeaux in Western France.

So what do I think of the Stinger. I found that it has a very interesting taste. Both Pete and I agree that the drink has a very Butterscotch type of aftertaste to it. Marta feels (and I agree) that It has a very light and summery feel. It is definitely NOT what I expected. Maybe I expected the Brandy to not play well with the Creme de Menthe. You can't even tell that there is a hint of mint in it. I was wrong in feeling that this cocktail would not work for me. To be honest, I'm not sure how often I would drink one of these but I would recommend it to someone looking for a light, summery historical cocktail. Anyone out there have an impression they would like to share on The Stinger? Let me know.

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla