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.
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. And the more there is, the easier it is to muddle and get that incredible, bright green hue.
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!
Gin Basil Smash ingredients:
- Fresh lemon juice
- Simple syrup
- Basil leaves
I’d go so far as to say that most gins will work great in a Gin Basil Smash, thanks to its simple, herbaceous flavors. If you’re looking for the best gin for this cocktail, start with a London Dry gin like Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, or Plymouth.
Gins with a classic juniper-forward profile are a great match for the vibrant herbal flavor of fresh basil. Other, more unusual gins can work great in this cocktail as well. Try it with the very herbal Gin Mare or the cucumber-forward Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Be sure to always use fresh lemon juice, it makes all the difference! The combination of fresh lemon and fresh basil is what elevates this simple cocktail from average to extraordinary. For this recipe, you’ll need 1 ounce of juice, so you’ll need about half a lemon per cocktail. Lemons can vary quite in a bit with how much juice they yield. Small lemons will yield on average about 1 ounce of juice, while larger ones will have 1 1/2 to 2 ounces each.
Simple syrup is a classic cocktail ingredient and one you’ll want to learn to make, rather than buy. There’s no need to spend money on simple syrup when you can make a quick batch in just minutes. And you don’t have to dirty a saucepan or wait for hot liquid to cool!
Simply combine equal parts sugar and warm water (you don’t need to boil it) and stir until the sugar has dissolved. You can even make and store the syrup in the same mason jar. Just be sure you store it in the refrigerator and it will stay fresh for at least two weeks. Still have questions? Learn everything there is to know about simple syrup in my Complete Guide to Simple Syrup.
Fresh basil is the crown jewel of this simple gin drink. I like to keep a couple basil plants in my kitchen window so I always have super fresh basil for my drinks or cooking. While it’s a summer herb, you can find fresh basil leaves and sometimes whole plants at the grocery store or at stores like Whole Foods year round. Look for a clamshell filled with dry, bright green, unwilted leaves and they should keep for about a week in the refrigerator.
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’ll still taste some of the basil, but you won’t end up with a green drink. Unlike mint, that should only be very gently muddled, you really can’t overdo the muddling with basil for this one.
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).
Add more fresh citrus flavor by muddling a few orange or grapefruit slices with the basil. I love making an Orange Basil Gin Smash like in the video below.
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 incredible 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.