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