The Gin Basil Smash is a modern classic cocktail that’s refreshing, delicious, and so easy to make at home! This simple gin cocktail uses just four ingredients, and you can find them at the store any time of year.
The bright and herbaceous flavors of fresh basil and lemon make the Gin Basil Smash an especially great cocktail for spring and summer. And the vibrant green color is a welcome departure from the reds and browns of the most common, easy classic cocktails.
Common ingredients make an exceptional cocktail
Unlike many classics, this simple cocktail requires only one bottle of liquor and nothing fancy or hard to find.
I love uncommon ingredients and recipes that call for things like violet liqueur or milk clarification, but since last year (2020), I try to share as many simple, accessible drink recipes as possible.
The Gin Basil Smash is the perfect example of an easy, yet top quality cocktail that anyone can make and enjoy at home. Even during these wild, grocery delivery dependent times!
History of the Gin Basil Smash
This modern classic was invented in 2008 in Hamburg, Germany by bartender Jörg Meyer.
Meyer originally called his creation the Gin Pesto, a very fitting name for a basil-forward sip. It seems that over time, the name transformed into more of a description of its preparation.
Smashes are a category of cocktails that involves muddling fresh herbs and/or citrus. One of the best known is the Whiskey Smash, made with muddled mint and lemon.
Meyer has noted of this cocktail that it’s better to err on the side of more, rather than less basil. You really can’t add too much, in my opinion.
The Gin Basil Smash spread quickly and is now popular in bars all over the world. Not bad for a drink invented just over a decade ago!
- Fresh lemon juice
- Simple syrup
- Basil leaves
Muddle, and then muddle some more
The key to releasing all of that fresh basil flavor (and gorgeous green color) into this drink is to muddle the basil thoroughly.
Use plenty of healthy basil leaves (10-12) and really smash them with the lemon juice. I use a solid wooden muddler and break down the leaves until I can see that the liquid in the shaker is green. If you don’t muddle vigorously, you won’t end up with a green drink.
Simple syrup is very easy to make, and you don’t have to waste time or create dirty dishes by cooking it. Simply place equal parts sugar and water in a jar and stir until dissolved. You can screw a lid on the jar and shake it, too. It really only takes a couple of minutes for the sugar to dissolve. Use warm water to speed up the process.
I recently made a version of this cocktail with Irish moonshine and honey syrup instead of simple syrup. Honey is perfect for spring, and just like in a Bees Knees or Yellowjacket cocktail, it goes great with gin.
Honey syrup is possibly even easier to make than simple syrup. Get my Honey Syrup recipe.
Make it even more refreshing by adding fresh mint to the mix. After you’ve muddled your basil and added the rest of the ingredients to the shaker, throw in a few mint leaves before adding the ice and shaking.
The ice will break down the mint enough to add flavor to the drink, but without overdoing it and bringing out bitterness in the mint (like muddling mint can sometimes do).
Make a wintery variation with rosemary. Like with the mint suggestion above, (after muddling the basil) toss a sprig of rosemary into the shaker. The piney aromatics of rosemary pair well with basil and junipery gin, bringing this cocktail into the colder months.
While basil isn’t at its prime in the winter time, it is abundant in grocery stores year round. It’s also hearty enough to thrive in a sunny kitchen window during the winter.
I made the one pictured here during February with basil leaves and blossoms from a plant in my kitchen. It’s amazing to see pretty white basil blossoms emerging during the snowiest month of the year!
Add a bar spoon of Green Chartreuse. Amp up the herbal flavors with the mother of all herbal liqueurs! Even just a rinse of Chartreuse will add depth of flavor.
Make it a Collins. This long-sipping variation is even more refreshing, making it great for a summer afternoon. Create the cocktail as usual, but fine strain it into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with a few ounces of sparkling water or club soda.
You might also enjoy these other refreshing gin cocktails:
- Strawberry Basil Gin Sour
- Classic Gimlet
- Raspberry Basil Blossom Gin Smash
- Mandarin Ginger Gin Sour
Gin Basil Smash
- 2 oz gin
- ¾ oz fresh lemon juice
- ¾ oz simple syrup
- 10-12 basil leaves
- Thoroughly muddle the basil leaves with the lemon juice in cocktail shaker.
- Add the gin and the simple syrup and fill the shaker 3/4 with ice.
- Shake until chilled, then fine strain the liquid into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with basil leaves or a basil blossom.