It seems like the equinox is a very good time for Mixology Monday. Why? Not really sure, but new seasons are a time of transition and always prod us to try new things. And, with ever-so-perfect-timing, our host Chris of the Bar Above blog chose this month’s theme, “The Unknown”. Here is the rundown:
Basically the idea is to try something new, an ingredient or technique that you’ve never had experience with before and create a cocktail around it… Use a spirit that you’ve never used before. It could be a base spirit, modifier or that Belgian Ale that rings in at 15% alcohol. Use an ingredient that has always captured your imagination in the supermarket. Maybe that weird looking fruit that you always walk by at Whole Foods, or that unusual looking vegetable that you can’t even pronounce. [or] Use a new technique that you’ve never tried, but have always wanted to. Have you been dying to make your own vermouth, amaro, or martini glass made completely out of flavored sugar.
Ah, cool theme- and we had just the right ingredient to work with, Branca Menta. What is Branca Menta? It is an amaro / digestif, that as it’s name suggests, has a clear mint note (along with a bittersweet herbal base). The lesser-known cousin of Fernet Branca (a Bay Area favorite), the Menta has a big kick of sweet mint with a clean, bitter and pleasantly medicinal finish. Yes, that may not sound great, but like most amaro, the Menta is an acquired taste. But once you try it, you do seem to keep coming back.
So what to make with the Menta? That was also easy. We have to admit that neither of us have ever had a Stinger, the classic combo of Cognac and Creme de Menthe. And there is a reason for that- it sounds totally nasty (and like a waste of good Cognac). But we figured the Menta would make for a better version of the Stinger. And after a little research, we found a good recipe for an “Improved” Stinger using the Menta from the blog Caskstrength. Excellent.
The only other issue was the Cognac. No way were we using either Cognac, or even Armagnac, in this drink (you could, and it would be surprisingly good). But we did have a very smooth, tasty and affordable Spanish brandy to use, and it was a perfect fit with the Menta, letting its mint flavor lead the drink. The only other ingredient is a little rich simple syrup to add sweetness that Creme de Menthe would traditionally supply.
So how does the Improved Stinger taste? You get a minty nose followed by pleasant kick of the brandy and then a long middle of herbs and mint with a surprisingly clean finish. Sweet, but not at all cloying. Would we drink this every day? No. But as a nice autumn or winter sipper, we can see ourselves enjoying the Improved Stinger. And now we have another way to enjoy the Branca Menta. Continue reading