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Mastering the Stinger With William Elliott

In "Masters of X," we spotlight bartenders chasing perfection in one drink. Here, William Elliott takes on the oddball Cognac classic, the Stinger.

An old-school society drink best known as a minty digestif, it’s hard to imagine the Stinger as a drink worth rescuing. It’s even harder to imagine a modern-day bartender adopting this pinkies-up dessert cocktail as a signature drink.

“I feel drawn to drinks that have persuasive names but somehow you’ve never tried them before, because no one is making them or they sound like a bad drink,” explains William Elliott, bar director at Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere and Sauvage, of the odd mix of brandy and crème de menthe. “The Stinger can’t help but read two-dimensionally because it only has two ingredients.”

But that is precisely why Elliott was drawn to it: he favors simple drinks “where you really focus on the perfection of each ingredient.” So, instead of dismissing it outright as a bad drink (Elliott instead describes it as “a perfect palate cleanser”) as many bartenders have, he spent roughly two weeks tinkering with the formula, placing the drink on Sauvage’s opening menu in May 2016.

His version, however, bears little resemblance to the mouthwash-tinged classic, usually spotted in a Martini glass and sometimes even served with a straw or two.

William Elliott Makes the Stinger

First, he opted for French brandy—in particular, a Cognac from small producer Gourry de Chadeville, imported by Nicolas Palazzi. “It’s a legendary producer who produces for négociant Cognac houses, but reserved some of his own stock and bottles it,” he says. Elliott recalls trying Gourry de Chadeville in drinks prior to the official debut of the restaurant. “I said, damn, that’s why that Cognac was placed here—to make the world’s best Stinger.”

This particular bottling is overproof at 55 percent ABV, which “made sense only going up against crème de menthe,” a liqueur with powerful flavors that can bully more understated spirits. For the crème de menthe, he chose Giffard Menthe-Pastille, “historically the first major producer of crème de menthe.” he adds less than an ounce of it, allowing the Cognac to remain the star of the show.

“The proportion seemed like a no-brainer to me,” he explains. “I wanted to taste the Cognac… [and] frame it the right way.”

Elliott then adds “one sneaky dash of absinthe” from Germain-Robin, which dials down the anise-fennel twang found in many absinthes, and instead offers more delicate, rose-like floral notes, as well as an extra hit of mint. “It’s not super-changing to the drink,” he says, “but it definitely lifts [it].”

The final X Factor is the drink’s preparation: Instead of stirring each drink individually, Stingers are pre-batched, bottled and chilled in the freezer, a practice Sauvage uses for a number of other traditionally stirred drinks, such as Martinis.

“I knew that in order to get past some of the inherent flaws of the cocktail, a great way to do it would be to hyper-chill it,” Elliott says. Pre-batching the drink streamlines the process while super-chilling it takes some of the “piercing” edge off the overproof Cognac. “I knew it would make it more palatable,” he says.

The presentation follows the nascent up-rocks trend, which Elliott helped popularize at Maison Premiere: the drink is served in a slightly oversized coupe, poured over a cube of angular “diamond” ice. The final touch: A lemon peel is twisted over the top—another slight of hand that helps combat the drink’s inherent sweetness—and then discarded. (“The twist bouncing around in the coupe is just endlessly annoying to me,” Elliott says.) The end result is a drink that’s cooling, but hardly cloying.

“I wanted to bring peace to the fact that it’s a perfect palate cleanser,” says Elliott. “It’s like a fricking Andes candy; it doesn’t have to be any more sophisticated than that.”

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