What Exactly Is Crème De Menthe?

Mint can be divisive. Paired with chocolate, the taste can be a reviving post-meal pick-me-up. For some, the flavor can prompt memories of holidays — or medicine — and none of these impressions are wrong. This brings us to crème de menthe,

Crème de menthe was first made in 1885 by a French pharmacist looking for digestive cures, and in time, the libation found its way into cocktails. For experienced bartenders and those in the know, crème de menthe can be a sweet, refreshing addition that rounds out a cocktail recipe or offsets the bitterness of other spirits. Originally used as a post-dinner libation, crème de menthe has become commonly paired with heavy cream and crème de cacao to make light-green Grasshoppers or is mixed with Cognac to make Stingers. And yes, while the liqueur is known for its noticeable green splash, the concoction can deliver much more than a sugary, bright color to your drinks.

Flavor and common cocktail recipes

Bartender Deke Dunne admits to Liquor that the bright, bold flavor of crème de menthe can be difficult to pair, but when a recipe is nailed, it can result in a fresh, cooling herbal profile. Restaurant Clicks provides a list of minty drinks that have been made with crème de menthe, including The Frozen Grasshopper, a thicker, blended version of the Grasshopper that adds mint ice cream to the recipe; the boozy American Beauty that mixes four parts Cognac with one part each of French vermouth, grenadine, white crème de menthe, and orange juice; and the Emerald Isle, a bright delight made from gin, bitters, and crème de menthe.

Since the 1920s, the creamy, chocolatey Grasshopper cocktail has delighted drinkers, particularly revelers in the 1970s and 80s, notes Steve the Bartender; the recipe is made up of equal parts heavy cream, crème de menthe, and white crème de cacao. Difford's Guide suggests using splashes of white crème de menthe to bring out mint flavors or to introduce a refreshing breeze into cocktails such as the Alpine Negroni, a complex kind of White Negroni that is mixed with dry gin, gentian liqueur, Americano bianco, genepi, white crème de menthe, lemon bitters, and saline solution.

How it is made and its contents

Crème de menthe gets its minty flavor from grain alcohol that has been infused with mint or peppermint after it has steeped for several days, explains The Bar Cabinet. Sugar is added, and many brands age the liqueur before bottling it for purchase.

While the word "crème" may indicate some sort of dairy content, the French word simply designates a category of liqueurs that pack quite a bit of sugar. Think crème de cacao, crème de cassis, and crème de mure — all sweet liqueurs, and all dairy-free. But don't let the sweetness fool you: Crème de menthe can pack a punch and can range up to 25 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The Dutch DeKuyper Crème De Menthe contains 30 percent ABV, notes Bevvy, and can be purchased in either a green or white variation to accommodate your desired visual — or lack of — impact.

DIY crème de menthe

You can make your own crème de menthe at home, encourages Serious Eats, with fresh mint leaves, vodka, sugar, and water. You'll need to plan ahead, however, as the process of steeping the mint leaves can take a few days, but once you've made your DIY batch, it will keep up to two months.

You'll need plenty of mint — one and a half cups — and an equal amount of vodka and sugar. After steeping a quarter of the mint leaves in vodka for 12 hours, strain the vodka and add it to cooled sugar water. This concoction will need to be steeped for 10 hours with more mint, then strained for a final time to store for later use or enjoyed immediately. To replicate a bright green hue, add food coloring, but if you're simply looking for a fresh, minty flavor to add to drinks and treats, you can work with the steeped homemade brew.

Popular brands

While refreshing for some, Restaurant Clicks recognizes the taste of crème de menthe can be off-putting to others, and advises those shopping for bottles to take home to look for brands that use natural mint leaves, herbs, and spices for a minty flavor that isn't overpowering.

Whether you're searching for green or white varieties of crème de menthe to stock your at-home bar, you should be able to find a selection to choose from at your local liquor store. Feast + West suggests that Giffard Menthe Pastille, DeKuyper, Bols, Monin, or Arrow are standard labels. Drink Hacker compared seven different types, concluding that a solidly-stocked bar should contain one of each liqueur — green and white — to round out recipes easily, and adds Tempus Fugit Crème de Menthe and Gaetano Green Crème de Menthe to our aforementioned list of crème de menthe brands. For a crispy peppermint flavor that can perk up any homemade recipe, Danny's Wine & Beer recommends Top Shelf Creme de Menthe Essence.

Using crème de menthe in recipes

If you're wanting to prepare some minty-fresh desserts to offer guests, Bring on the Spice recommends serving crème de menthe in colorful ice cream parfaits topped with fresh whipped cream. Food layers chocolate brownies with a festive layer of crème de menthe icing, ideal to present for celebrations and holidays.

For drink recipes, try adding crème de menthe to hot chocolate or coffee — or even mixing up a fresh champagne cocktail for a refreshing pick-me-up. The liqueur is more commonly used in recipes like the Grasshopper and the Stinger, ideal after-dinner libations, but your imagination is the limit when it comes to pairing the sweet mint flavor with other ingredients.

Don't have crème de menthe in your cupboard yet still crave a minty treat? Of course, you can try swapping Peppermint Schnapps as a replacement — just be prepared to sweeten it to really replicate it. You can use peppermint syrups or muddle mint and add sugar syrup for a nonalcoholic addition.