Spirits & Liqueurs Liqueur

What the #$@! Do I Do with This? Creme de Menthe: What It Is and How to Use It.

Grasshoppers are great, but the minty liqueur can go far beyond just that.

creme de menthe bottle

Liquor.com / Laura Sant

You bought a spirit or liqueur because a cocktail recipe called for a very minute amount. Now you’re stuck with the remaining 9/10ths of the bottle and what to do with it. No worries. Savvy bartenders weigh in with tips and recipes for getting every last drop out of an underutilized ingredient so it doesn’t gather dust on your bar shelf.

Creme de menthe is perhaps most commonly seen together with creme de cacao and heavy cream in a Grasshopper or alongside cognac in a Stinger. But despite its reputation as an overly sweet and often artificially colored hooch, quality creme de menthe can be so much more.

Creme de menthe is a liqueur made by adding mint leaves or extract to neutral alcohol, after which it’s filtered, sweetened, lightly aged and bottled. As with many other liquor categories, it was originally used as a digestif, developed in France by Emile Giffard in the late 1800s. Green versions get their hue either from the macerated mint leaves or from natural or artificial coloring agents. 

“Creme de menthe is very versatile but needs a steady hand and a good-quality brand to use it successfully and not overpower the drink,” says Naren Young, the creative director at Sweet Liberty in Miami. Tempus Fugit is his go-to, its formulation based on a historic recipe and distilled from botanicals, sweetened with cane sugar and reduced with spring water. He also likes Giffard, which is made in France and produced with peppermint essential oils. Young uses white creme de menthe colored in-house with green dye for his Grasshopper 2.0, in which the minty liqueur is shaken with mezcal, creme de cacao, Branca Menta and heavy cream, then garnished with dark chocolate and mint.

The bold, fresh flavor of creme de menthe is both its best attribute and what makes it challenging to work with, according to Deke Dunne, a bartender and the manager at Allegory in Washington, D.C. “A well-made creme de menthe brings a wonderfully distinct cool, herbal flavor to the table that you can use in a lot of fun ways,” he says. He turns to Marie Brizzard when he wants one that’s full-bodied, bold and vibrant and to Tempus Fugit when he’s looking to add a little funkiness to drinks.

Dunne likes the way that rye’s inherent baking spices interplay with the liqueur’s herbal coolness. He created the Saz with a Sting, a Stinger-Sazerac mashup that splits the base between rye and Armagnac, adding creme de menthe and a touch of Jamaican rum. He also uses the liqueur in his cocktail the Republic, which sees locally produced Republic Restoratives rye stirred with Tempus Fugit white creme de menthe and a barspoon of Don Ciccio & Figli amaro don fernet, garnished with an expressed orange twist. 

“When the average person thinks of creme de menthe, they usually hark back to that dust-covered toxic green bottle that sits behind every bar across the country,” says Dunne. “There are so many wonderfully crafted creme de menthes on the market, and it’s our job as bartenders to reframe the conversation.”

Jake Larragoite, the food and beverage manager at The Apothecary Lounge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was staring at a bottle of green creme de menthe not long ago and had the idea of lightening up the body and adding some backbone for an aesthetically similar version of the Ramos Gin Fizz. “Lighter than a Grasshopper and fresher than a Ramos, it’s an airy, minty green chocolate delight with notes of citrus and an extra punch from the gin.” Its layers of botanicals, herbs and aromatics found in gin and amari make the spirits pair remarkably easy with creme de menthe. He uses creme de menthe in his cocktail Word Up, a variation on a Last Word in which the minty liqueur stands in for herbal green Chartreuse, and his drink the Jaded Herbalist mixes it with cinnamon- and ginger-forward Becherovka and the oaky, bitter herbaceousness of Braulio.

Larragoite admits he knew nothing about the liqueur when he started bartending 20 years ago except that it’s the green bottle that makes its appearance every St. Patrick’s Day. But that has all changed. “If you learn what makes creme de menthe unique and begin to appreciate it for what it is, you can start to use it with purpose.”

  • Grasshopper 2.0

    Grasshopper 2.0

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    In this variation on the classic cocktail, mezcal lends darker, lower notes to the mix of creme de menthe, creme de cacao and heavy cream, with herbaceous notes added by absinthe and Branca Menta. “I can’t think of a spirit creme de menthe wouldn’t marry well with,” says Young.

    Get the recipe.

  • Saz with a Sting

    Saz with a Sting

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    In this combo of a Stinger and a Sazerac, Dunne swaps out the usual cognac in favor of the fruitier Armagnac and splits the base with rye whiskey. “Bring some Jamaican rum to the party for some tropical funk and aromatic complexity, and this riff is a very fun, fresh and funky endeavor,” he says. 

    Get the recipe.

  • Word Up

    Word Up

    Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

    “Equal parts gin, maraschino liqueur, creme de menthe and lime juice gives you a fresh, vibrant cocktail with just enough sweet and sour to please the palate,” Larragoite says of his take on the Last Word, in which he swaps out green Chartreuse in favor of the minty liqueur.

    Get the recipe.