Credit: Julia Thiel

With the scorching weather we’ve had for the past few days (not to mention the weekend forecast), it’s tempting to wish summer would hurry up and leave already. To be honest, I kind of do. But then I start thinking about all that’s going to leave along with the warm weather—peak-season tomatoes, peaches, basil, mint—and trying to figure out if I can live solely on tomatoes for the next couple weeks. I guess I could start canning tomatoes or peaches, but I’ve tried canning in the past and wasn’t wild about the hours of work in a hot kitchen (plus, I don’t own a food mill). Preserving flavors in alcohol, on the other hand, is incredibly easy. Enter creme de menthe.

As cocktail ingredients go, creme de menthe is dated: it pops up over and over in the cocktail books from the 1930s that I’ve recently been sifting through, and it starred in the Grasshopper cocktails that were so popular in the 70s. But these days, much like creme de cacao (which I also recently tried making), creme de menthe is more likely to be found in a dorm room than in a well-curated liquor cabinet.

Credit: Julia Thiel

So why try making it? One answer, of course, is “why not?” Fresh mint is fairly cheap (or free, if you have a friend with a yard full of it), and it’s a good use for any vodka you have sitting around. But the better answer is that while most commercial versions of creme de menthe aren’t very good, they’re also full of artificial ingredients and colorings, and a homemade version could be much better. (Spoiler alert: it is.) You can also control the amount of sugar that goes into it if, like me, you’re not into sickly sweet liqueurs.

Like creme de cacao, creme de menthe is named for its viscosity, not because it contains cream. And as you might imagine of a drink so sugary that it’s viscous, it’s traditionally very sweet: one recipe I found used equal parts sugar and vodka. The one I ended up going with had half as much sugar—which was still three times more sugar than I’d used in my creme de cacao. I considered dialing it back, but the problem with making liqueurs less sweet is that it becomes complicated to use them in cocktail recipes.

Right after adding the mintCredit: Julia Thiel

I ended up following the recipe from the website Tablespoon almost exactly—the one difference being that I substituted 151-proof demerara rum for a third of the vodka, both because that’s what I had on hand and because I thought it would help extract more flavor from the mint. 

It’s a very simple process: you steep the vodka overnight with most of the fresh mint, then strain out the mint and discard it. Make a simple syrup, steeping it with a little more fresh mint; cool the syrup, strain the mint out, and combine it with the infused vodka. The recipe suggests adding green food coloring, which I didn’t do.

The mixture, after sitting overnightCredit: Julia Thiel

Creme de menthe (recipe from Tablespoon)
750 milliliters vodka
1 cup fresh mint
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh mint

The finished creme de menthe (I forgot to photograph it right away, so it’s a little browner than when I first strained out the mint.)Credit: Julia Thiel

My freshly infused creme de menthe was a deep, slightly muddy green color that faded to brown over the course of a few days (as far as I can tell, though, the taste hasn’t deteriorated at all in the month or so since I’ve made it). It’s definitely sweet—I tasted on its own to see what the flavor was like (minty!), but it’s not something I’d want to drink straight.

Which leads, of course, to mixing it into a cocktail. My first thought was the Grasshopper—the cocktail mentioned most frequently in connection with creme de menthe. I’d also, in the course of my research, come across a couple of excellent articles on the Grasshopper and its history (one in Eater, one in Tasting Table) that made me eager to try one.

If you don’t use creme de menthe that’s been dyed bright green, your Grasshopper won’t be the classic pastel green color.Credit: Julia Thiel

It turns out to be a perfectly lovely cocktail, less sweet than I’d feared—though the fact that my creme de cacao is less sweet than most probably contributed to that. It’s a guilty pleasure sort of drink, a minty, creamy, chocolatey dessert in itself, one of those gateway cocktails that appeals to people who don’t like the taste of alcohol, and that people who consider themselves serious about cocktails look down their noses at. I’ll admit it, though—it turns out I like Grasshoppers. I may even try the suggestion of the Drink Blog, and add some cognac to reduce the level of sweetness. Or not. Classics are classics for a reason.

1 oz creme de menthe
1 oz creme de cacao
1 oz heavy cream
Add all ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, shake well, and strain into a coupe or martini glass.