Minty, refreshing, and undeniably potent, the Stinger cocktail is part reviver, part ultimate nightcap. The cocktail originates around the fin de siecle, but was not memorialized until Tom Bullock’s Ideal Bartender (1917). The Stinger was a favorite of the high society set who regularly had a brandy digestif after supper. The classic recipe is one of the only all booze cocktails that calls for shaking. Typically, shaking is reserved for cocktails with egg white or citrus. It is beyond a doubt, the all booze content and late hour of imbibing this nightcap justifies “bruising” (or diluting with ice via shaking) the liquor. For the classic cocktail enthusiasts, the Stinger specification has not changed all that much since pre-Prohibition.
Stinger (circa 1890)
The New York nightcap and a great after dinner drink.
0.75 oz crème de menthe (white)
2 oz VS or higher Cognac (drier is better)
Tools: Mixing tins, jigger, large brandy glass
Method: Toss and pour over crushed ice in a large brandy glass. Add mint sprig garnish.
Our favorite variation of the Stinger features neither brandy nor crème de menthe! This adaptation is called the Midnight Stinger and spotlights Kentucky bourbon and Italian Fernet Branca.
Barmen Sam Ross and Mickey McIlroy of New York City’s famed Milk & Honey introduced me to the Midnight Stinger cocktail several years ago. Since my first taste of this obscure gem, this tipple now graces cocktail menus across the country, such as the Violet Hour in Chicago. Luckily, I am able to go right to the source when Ross or McIlroy are behind the pine. I find the Midnight Stinger’s simplicity part of its charm. It brings the best parts of the King Cole cocktail (bourbon, Fernet, simple syrup) and whiskey sour (bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup) together to make a quite remarkable cocktail. The Fernet is the key ingredient pulling the other components into line and adds the mint factor so embodied in a traditional Stinger.
The standard bourbon used in cocktails at Milk & Honey is Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon (47% ABV). At 94 proof, EC 12 has the depth to stand up to the Fernet’s medicinal flavors in the Midnight Stinger yet retains a subtle sweetness with flavors of toffee and caramel evident on the palette. In addition, the price (around $26 retail) cannot be beat for the quality of aged bourbon. EC 12 is produced at the Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Fernet Branca is an herbal liqueur or “digestivo” that has been popular in Italy and France since the 19th century. The Fratelli Branca Fernet-Branca brand is the most popular in the world but there are also dozens of other producers of the amaro sub-genre called Fernet. For example, an excellent variety produced by the Venetian produced Fernet Luxardo can also be used in this recipe. The Fernet Branca we use here is a soothing liquor composed of at least 27 herbs, including saffron, aloes, gentian, rhubarb, gun myrrh, red cinchona bark, & other exotic spices. It has a medicinal quality that is both refreshing and reviving after a satisfying meal. Be warned Fernet Branca clocks in at 40% ABV/80 proof and can be thought of as the Italian cousin to the German Jaegermeister.
Bourbon blends naturally with fresh lemon juice. Simple syrup adds the necessary sweetness and rounds out the bitter amaro. The result is a quintessential nightcap that is enjoyable before and after Midnight!
Adapted by Sam Ross & Mickey McIlroy
0.75 oz fresh lemon
0.75 oz simple syrup
1 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Bourbon
Tools: Mixing tins, jigger, rocks glass, julep spoon straw
Method: Roll the ingredients without ice and pour over crushed ice in a rocks glass. Add mint sprig garnish.
A FINAL TOAST
I enjoyed my final drink, a Midnight Stinger (natch!) at the old Milk & Honey in the early hours of December 31, 2012. The pioneering cocktail bar closed its doors at 134 Eldridge Street and is moving uptown. However, do not fret, a bar called Attaboy co-owned by Ross and McIlroy, by will be taking over the old M&H space later this year, so you can still enjoy this stellar cocktail at both bars!
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. He is head cocktailian and a co-producer of The Salon parties. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City