The Stinger, mellowed with age

Hate Stingers? Me too. But if you’re in D.C., try the barrel-aged version at McClellan’s before you swear off the drink for life

I’ve always loathed the Stinger. Maybe it’s because the drink’s upper-crust associations never resonated with me — a low-born, Cleveland-bred scion of public assistance. [As it happens, I have similar contempt for martinis. Huh.]

But it may also be because the three [3] Stingers I’d had until Friday night were made by, um, me, using the kind of white creme de menthe that sits in a plastic bottle on the bottom shelf of the county liquor store — gummy-sweet as mint candy, sure to tip your blood glucose levels into the trouble zone.

Which is why, when I saw a Stinger on the menu at McClellan’s Retreat, a handsomely dark and woody saloon near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., I told the cheerful barkeep by name of Brian that, well, I hated Stingers.

“So let’s get you something else,” said he, sagely.

“But you guys have some serious drinks on the menu. And it says it’s barrel aged. Maybe this is the one I should try to rule them out for the rest of my life.”

He approved.

“If you hate this one, you hate hate Stingers. If you hate it, it’s on me.”

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A 45-day barrel-aged Stinger served at McClellan’s Retreat in Washington, D.C. Cool bottle!

Just like a Stinger, but smooth

Brian produced a handsome little bottle that recalls both a 19th century apothecary vessel and a pocket flask, and poured the contents over rocks in a Double Old Fashioned glass, garnishing with a generous tuft of mint.

The McClellan’s barreled Stinger was a revelation, far smoother and richer than anything I expected. Refreshing, but without that childlike high-menthol screech. Surprisingly…elegant.

The brandy was a Sacred Bond bottled-in-bond number, weighing in at 100 proof. The creme de menthe was Giffard’s Menthe Pastille, a French brand dating to 1885 and, it is said, comprising both a mellow and a wild mint.

The ingredients are barreled in oak at McClellan’s for a month and a half, lathing away the high-proof ethyl edges and sort of quieting the whole thing down.

No sting.

Truth told, I plucked out the mint not long into the engagement. The garnish overstated the mint, unbalancing the proportions of the beverage itself.

I nursed the Stinger — not just to prevent the potent brandy from unbalancing me from my bar stool, but to savor it.

Yes, to savor a drink I thought I’d hated.

So: Do I like Stingers? I have no idea. I love the Stinger at McClellan’s.

 

The Tom Waits cocktail: “27 Stitches”

Tom Waits no longer drinks. This didn’t stop me from creating a beverage inspired by his characters and stories. Warning: Things get a little weird

If you’re acquainted with Tom Waits — the most important and breathtakingly talented songwriter and performer of his generation I-don’t-care-what- you-say-because-if-you-disagree-you’re-wrong — you’d think it would be easy to come up with a Tom Waits drink.

Many of Waits’ early songs are exquisite, heartbreaking, often hilarious soundscapes where the main characters have been, to put it generously, over-served. Just a few titles illustrate: “The Piano has Been Drinking.” “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.” “Gin-Soaked Boy.”

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Tom Waits in his reckless youth: “Half drunk most of the time / all drunk the rest”

Until he met his wife Kathleen Brennan in 1987 and together they embarked on a remarkable journey of musical exploration that too few people know about, Waits says he lived a lot like the Bowery-bum scoundrels and layabouts that populate his songs.

Life moves along. He reports that he had his last drink in 1992. He credits Brennan with saving his life. Continue reading “The Tom Waits cocktail: “27 Stitches””