Stella's Stinger

Something that's often lost in the modern-day cocktail frenzy are these certain categories or types of drinks where the base liquor isn't the potation's (love that word!) defining characteristic. Consider, for example, the very word cocktail; in its nascence, it had a rather strict interpretation, but what made it strict wasn't which type of liquor you used, but what else you put in the glass: A mixture of any liquor, sugar, water and bitters.

As another example, I've done a couple of swizzles on this site, and as I've discussed before, a swizzle means any drink made with a liquor, a liqueur, fruit juice and crushed ice. Some of these (categories? subgenres? I wish I knew better nomenclature for what I'm talking about -- one of my cocktail books lists them in the back as "Versatile Cocktails") you do find at places like Death & Company, which has the Robert Johnson Swizzle, and Employees Only, which makes a Ginger Smash. (A smash begins as a julep does, with muddled mint and sugar in the bottom of the glass, then ice. Some folks then say you just put in whatever liquor and you're done; I've also seen that a little club soda with an orange-and-cherry garnish is needed to make it a proper smash. Having said all that, Employees Only pretty much just muddles and ices and calls theirs a smash.)

Smashes, shrubs, fizzes, swizzles, slings, flips, rickeys, fixes -- I love this stuff! Today, we are going to talk about another Versatile Cocktail category/subgenre, the Stinger. A stinger is basically made by adding a half-ounce of white creme de menthe to a shot of liquor... I will wait a moment to allow for any unintended gag reflexes. I know it sounds bad, but really it's not!

I've found recipes for a Brandy Stinger, a Tequila Stinger, a B&B Stinger, but today I want to share the one I like best, Stella's Stinger, which does things a little differently. In turn, I've done things a little differently from the recipe as I originally found it.

Stella's Stinger

(Adapted from The Bartender's Bible: 1001 Mixed Drinks And Everything You Need To Know To Set Up Your Bar by Gary Regan)

1 1/2 ounces Espolon Tequila Blanco

1/2 ounce Sauza Anejo Conmemorativo

Splash of white creme de menthe

Splash of Pernod

Coat the insides of a highball glass with the Pernod. Fill glass with ice and combine all other ingredients into the glass. Stir briskly. Garnish with lemon twist (optional).

Tasting Notes:

The Espolon is a 100% agave tequila, if that means anything to you. It's got a very sweet and pleasant nose. I'm not sure how much I'd trust this recipe with rail tequila or Jose Cuervo.

I reduced the white creme de menthe down from a teaspoon to a splash. I have a theory that the reason Stingers are no longer popular is that we as a drinking culture really don't care for creme de menthe anymore, and I didn't want the drink to taste overpowered. It's really good the way I wrote it, promise!

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The Chingon

Remember when I first started this blog and for a scant time held weekly "You Name It!" contests for as-yet-unchristened cocktails? Don't worry, it's okay that you don't. The point is, naming cocktails is not my forte.

Given that, I should really do more due diligence researching the names other people have given their cocktail creations. Like if I'd bothered to Google "Bumboo," yesterday's drink, I'd have learned that a bumbo, aka bumboo, is actually a certain category of drink -- albeit a pretty obscure one, as only one of my cocktail guidebooks mentions it -- traditionally made with dark rum, grenadine and some sort of nutmeg or cinnamon spice. Knowing that about Bumboo's etymology, for one thing, would have informed me as to why Death & Company probably chose to go with the Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters, noted on its manufacturer's website as containing a cinnamon note.

So what's a Chingon? It's Mexican slang for badass. Things I think are badass about this drink: Its orangey-yowza color, for one. The way the citrus plays against the orgeat (hints of Mai Tai) and the B&B (although note that the original Death & Co. recipe calls for just Benedictine). Most badass of all: That it is a cocktail mere mortals can easily wrap their shakers around, as the most exotic ingredient is the orgeat syrup -- which you should totally invest in anyway, because spring's around the corner and oh yes we will be making Mai Tais.

The Chingon

(Adapted from Death & Company)

2 ounces Sauza Conmemorativo

1 1/4 ounces B&B

3/4 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce orange juice

2 teaspoons Fee Brothers Orgeat Cordial Syrup

Orange peel, for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.

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The Pan Am

I've yet to mention scotch on this blog. There are a couple of reasons why. One: Bourbon exists, so what's the point? Two: Scotch precipitates a taste-memory flashback to my first year of living in New York, specifically the hours between midnight and 5 a.m. of that year, a year I'm happy to leave fuzzy, hazy and behind.

Back then I was interning at a magazine during the day, waiting tables at the now-defunct Bottom Line at night, then spending several hours and most of the tips I'd just earned at some of Greenwich Village's finest last-ditch saloons along with my Bottom Line co-workers, most of whom I haven't been able to recall by name for over a decade. My go-to drink during those lost mornings was scotch and soda -- a highball I settled on solely because it was the most grown-up-seeming thing I could think of to order. I was 22, recently graduated from a fancy-name college and hanging with middle-aged, stage-crew guys sporting frazzled, gray hair and incomplete sets of teeth.  I wanted to fit in.

I suppose that's all nothing to be too embarrassed about, but as far as the scotch-and-sodas were concerned, I was drinking them for all the wrong reasons. Chief among those wrong reasons: I hated the way they tasted, like dirt and unscrupulousness and sock sweat. (Mind you, these scotch-and-sodas were made with no-name, bottom-shelf scotch, natch.)

So when Sean put a Pan Am in my hand recently and told me to take a sip, you can imagine my surprise when the first thing I said was, "This actually tastes like scotch," and that I said so with a smile across my face. What it actually tastes like is a bright, unmuddied scotch full of pep and character; in the book from which this recipe is adapted, the author calls it "Mexican firewater meets Kentucky hooch." Either way, the Pan Am is a serviceable highball, uncomplicated but not simple, a great sipper that you can (and should! this is high-octane stuff!) take your time to enjoy.

The Pan Am

(Adapted from Mini Bar: Tequila: A Little Book of Big Drinks, by Mittie Hellmich)

1 ounce Sauza Tequila Anejo Conmemorativo

1 ounce Buffalo Trace bourbon

1/4 ounce simple syrup

3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients into an ice-filled highball glass, stir briskly for a few seconds and serve.

Tasting Notes:

The original recipe calls for mezcal instead of tequila; we don't have the former at home, so we subbed in the latter.


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The Tequila Alejandro

Upholding my week-long commitment to exploring the far reaches of Alexandria, today I find myself a bit of a stranger in a strange land -- that land being Tequilaville.

I have never cottoned to tequila, and I’ve never felt like I’ve missed out on much as a consequence, except perhaps further burdening my trove of already-embarrassing-enough drunken tales/tally of inexplicable scars (two; one just south of my lower lip, the other craggy across the top of one foot). If bourbon tastes like adult fun, then tequila tastes like legal troubles. It’s antagonistic-tasting. It’s too in-my-face, and even when I’m doing nothing more innocent than enjoying a margarita, I often believe that tequila’s devilish essence is asseverating itself from beneath its blanket of lime, sugar and salt, rather than just commingling nicey-nice in the glass like a base liquor is supposed to.

But when I started thinking about how to retrofit the basic Alexander recipe (liquor, creme de cacao, cream) around tequila, a few choices became clear. One was that the creme de cacao should be swapped out for Patron XO Cafe. A “coffee liqueur made with tequila,” as it’s described on the bottle (“Coffee Patron,” as I often call it), it was a big hit at The Royale when I worked there -- as a shot, a sipper or as one half of an admittedly puerile shooter I devised one night with a jovial, half-sauced regular that we dubbed the Irish Taco: Patron XO and Bailey’s. Since then, I’ve insisted of having it as a member of the at-home bar and have aimed to devise more subtle and clever uses for it.

A recurring challenge with Patron XO is that it’s quite syrupy in texture and trenchant in taste -- it's got an appealing warmth and a nice linger as a standalone digestif, but can be tricky for mixing -- so for this cocktail I reduced my Alexanders’ usual creme de cacao measurement by a quarter-ounce. The next part of the equation was to decide upon a cream variation, for which nothing sounded as right as chocolate. Actually, since chocolate is a taste I usually don’t enjoy in an alcoholic context, I had a hunch this would be a case of two wrongs making a right.

Tequila and chocolate are geographically/agriculturally simpatico, and both revel in an added kick of heat. Upon that realization, the rest of the recipe fell together in an instant. We had the bitters just sitting there on the shelf (hello -- Aztec!) and the dark chocolate-chili bar was a Christmas gift from Sean’s Aunt Meggie, who had actually given it to me as an in-joke, based on a Facebook comment she’d left me suggesting a spicy grace note for a previously blogged-about cocktail.

The Tequila Alejandro

1 ¼ ounces Sauza Anejo Conmemorativo Tequila

½ ounce Patron XO Cafe

¼ ounce Grand Marnier

3 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters

1 ¼ ounces Baskin-Robbins or homemade* chocolate ice cream, plus a little more for the float

Lindt Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate bar and cayenne pepper, for garnish

Grate chocolate bar (with Microplane?) until you've got just a pinch or two of shavings. Mix shavings with a few shakes of cayenne pepper to taste. Set aside.

Combine Sauza, Patron XO, Grand Marnier and bitters in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Add 1 1/4 ounces of chocolate ice cream. Cap and shake vigorously until ice cream has melted.

Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add a small float of chocolate ice cream. Garnish with chocolate-cayenne mix.

Tasting Notes:

*OK, about the Baskin-Robbins: Me battling a recent cold + needing but a couple small scoops of ice cream + Sean getting a Dunkin' Donuts gift card for Xmas + a Baskin-Robbins located inside the Dunkin' Donuts that's located three doors down from our apartment building = yes, I used Baskin Robbins chocolate ice cream. (How's that for honesty?) However, I am a HUGE advocate for homemade ice cream. Even when I cheat (which is all the time) by using evaporated or condensed milk or by using raw eggs without cooking the mixture first, it's 1000 times better than store-bought.

The Sauza Anejo Conmemorativo is one of two tequilas we have in the house, the other being a blanco. This Sauza is aged in used bourbon barrels, so I think we lucked out as far as using a tequila with choco-friendly notes.

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