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Evelyn Waugh Stinger Cocktail recipe

Note: Read on for the winner of the Laurie Colwin Home Cooking giveaway.

A strong cocktail is a popular cure for a variety of troubles, both physical and more … situational. Have a cold? Try a hot toddy. Feeling anxious or restless? A nip of bourbon will fix that right up. Spending the holiday season with your significant other’s extended family? I suggest a giant eggnog, double the brandy.

Of course, these treatments aren’t officially doctor-sanctioned (Disclaimer: Please don’t use this post as your personal WedMD). In the early 1900s, if you suffered from nerves or insomnia, they’d instead prescribe you a mixture of bromide and chloral, sedatives that also helped relieve pesky aches and pains. But what if you were really nervous or particularly achy? In Evelyn Waugh’s case, you’d just combine the two methods and see what sticks: the drinks or the drugs.

Waugh was a devotee of the cocktail cure for a number of life’s ills. “You must not think I am leading a dissolute life quite the reverse except for being drunk a lot” he wrote to his friend, the London socialite Diana Cooper. He soon became associated with several drinks that appeared frequently in his fiction as well as on his bar tabs, among them the Noonday Reviver (Guinness, ginger beer, gin), the Brandy Alexander (brandy, crème de cacao, cream). But the one drink he designated his “signature” was the Stinger: one part brandy, one part crème de menthe.

Although the cocktail combination was a favorite of many writers, including Somerset Maugham and Ian Fleming, Waugh took it a step further, using crème de menthe as a mixer whenever the opportunity presented itself—and sometimes when it shouldn’t. When doctors suggested he try the bromide cure, Waugh prepared the drugs just like a Stinger, shaken up with a liberal helping of crème de menthe.

The result? A night of hallucinations that haunted Waugh for years, and inspired a similar episode in the novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Cooper, in one of her letters back to Waugh, recalled with horror “whatever that dread concoction was you did not know you were Wrong til madness claimed you.” She warned him against the “the drink-drug-escape addiction” that would continue for the rest of his career. Only someone with a Stinger on the brain could describe an unpleasant train ride as “exactly like being inside a cocktail shaker”?

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The Stinger used to be a no-brained for bartenders. Invented by the Reginald Vanderbilt, an infamous playboy known for squandering his family money as well as his drinking, it was (according to a 1923 newspaper) “a short drink with a long reach, a subtle blending of ardent nectars, a boon to friendship, a dispeller of care.”

By the time Waugh started drinking them, though, Stingers were becoming slightly déclassé, due to their sweetness from that creme de menthe. Modern interpretations cut down on that 1:1 ratio Waugh would have known, sometimes even cutting it further by adding a splash of vermouth or bourbon. Try adding either one to see what you prefer—but leave the bromides out of it.

2 oz brandy
3/4 oz creme de menthe
1/2 oz dry vermouth or bourbon

Shake with ice. Pour into a chilled martini glass or old fashioned glass.

Giveaway: Thanks to all who entered the giveaway and shared their stories of Thanksgiving and Laurie. I picked a commenter at random, and the winner is … Beth Anne Brink-Cox. Comment below with your email (or find my contact info on the About page) so we can get you your prize! 

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