Spirited Cuisine: Creme de menthe

Minty Fresh
Originally uploaded by beatnikside

This is the eighth installment in the Spirited Cuisine series from Sri Bala (Shaman) and me. Each round, I select a liquor or spirit, and Sri creates a dessert recipe incorporating it. Find Sri’s posts at his blog and mine here within the Lush Life category.

Imagine a sweltering summer evening, when you’re stuck to your chair, your clothes are stuck to you, and your brain is stuck in neutral. You need a tremendous thunderstorm, but one can’t just call up a thunderstorm.

When I want a thunderstorm and don’t have one, I go for the next most cooling thing: Mint.

These days, when people want mint in a cocktail, they call for mint juleps and mojitos, both of which are made with fresh mint leaves. That’s lovely, but for real minty freshness your better choice is a drink that employs crème de menthe. It makes drinks crisp — a little like mouthwash but in a good way.

Crème de menthe is made by flavoring grain alcohol with mint and adding sugar. This means it’s not expensive, and it’s not a liquor you drink by itself. Rather, it works best in a mixed drink, balanced with other ingredients.

There are two varieties: white crème de menthe, which is clear, and green crème de menthe. They are flavored the same, so you choose one or the other depending on whether you want the result to be green.

Note that crème de menthe is not the same as peppermint schnapps. They are made in much the same way — peppermint schnapps is an American-style schnapps, not German-style, and thus is not distilled from the fruit that flavors it. But the mint flavor is different between them, and peppermint schnapps has a higher alcohol content. Be careful in swapping one for the other.

Fun fact: Stewie Griffin enjoys an occasional crème de menthe. (Source: Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story)

Classic crème de menthe cocktails include:

  • the Grasshopper, a frothy green concoction that’s kind of a mini, boozy milkshake
  • the Stinger, which I’ve written about before, and which is a particularly nice cocktail for the end of a meal
  • the Junior Mint, another dessert alternative and one that tastes just like the candy for which it’s named

For this post, let me suggest something more modern: a Bitch on Wheels. (I apologize for the name.) This is not a classic cocktail, but I’ve seen variations listed in enough places that I believe it has general appeal and staying power. As it happens, when I first read the recipe I was sure I would not like it, but I was pleasantly surprised. My version below balances the mint against the anise of the Pernod, and plays down the vermouth but keeps it in play. Try it despite the name — or for the name — and see if it surprises you too.

Bitch on Wheels

1 1/2 oz gin (Tanqueray is nice in this)
1/2 oz Pernod
1/2 oz crème de menthe
splash of vermouth

Shake or stir well with ice, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a tiny mint leaf if you like.

Despite some research, I have no idea where the name comes from. Made with green crème de menthe and milky-yellow-green Pernod, the drink’s color is reminiscent of the skin of the Wicked Witch of the West — that’s my best guess. Add your theories to the comments. Please also suggest a different name.

If you’re inclined to an even cooler beverage on a hot summer day, I refer you to my Spirited Cuisine partner, Sri. He brings us an extremely special guest chef this time: his mother. She has created a truly delicious dessert, the Choco de Menthe. Remarkably, it cools the body as it warms the soul. And her writing reveals her to be every bit as charming as her son. Please enjoy.

2 replies on “Spirited Cuisine: Creme de menthe”

  1. My partner said the colour of creme de menthe was so deep it must be artificial. I said that it was due to mint leaves and did not need an artificial material? Please enlighten us. Bernard

  2. As I understand it, most creme de menthe gets its hue from food coloring, but some of the higher end brands are more subtly colored and come by the color naturally. After all, if you make mint tea from dried tea leaves, the result is a bit green, so there’s some color there to be imparted.

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