The Whiskey Smash is a refreshing vintage cocktail commonly made with bourbon, lemon, mint, and sugar. This casual variation on the Mint Julep adds citrus and other seasonal fruit for an easy warm weather cocktail.
What is a Smash?
If you search for a Whiskey Smash recipe, you’ll come across a variety of interpretations, but what is a Smash, really?
According to Imbibe Magazine’s History of the Smash, its definition and method of preparation has varied a bit over time, but at its core, the Smash is a type of Julep.
Famed bartender Harry Johnson shared the first printed recipes in the late 1800s, which included the Old Time Whiskey Smash and the Fancy Whiskey Smash.
These cocktails were made with whiskey, sugar, mint, and seasonal fruit, but with different methods of execution and presentation.
Fun fact: Johnson was rivals with the legendary barman Jerry Thomas, and their feud came to a head when Thomas dumped a punch bowl full of the classic winter drink Tom & Jerry on the floor at Johnson’s bar.
Thomas allegedly called Johnson an amateur for serving the drink when it wasn’t cold enough outside. The nerve!
The Smash seems to have evolved as a more casual Mint Julep with the natural addition of various fruits.
Today, the most common fruit is lemon, which mixed with mint and whiskey makes for a wonderfully cool and refreshing summer cocktail.
One cocktail, many methods of preparation
The earliest Smash recipes involved muddling (or “smashing”) the fruit and mint leaves in the serving glass, adding spirits, and then topping the mixture with crushed ice.
Crushed ice adds a nice amount of dilution and also helps to keep loose leaves and fruit bits on the bottom of the glass. The drinks were served with Julep strainers to further prevent the drinker from getting a mouthful of smashed botanicals.
Other recipes called for the loose ingredients to be strained out and the drink served over cubed ice, or even up in a cocktail glass. Some Smashes muddled the fruit with the mint, while others reserved the fruit for garnishing, similar to Cobblers.
The Whiskey Smash has seen many different interpretations throughout the years, and there’s really no wrong way to make it.
In addition to whiskey, Smashes are often made with rum and brandy. The appeal of this enduring cocktail is that it’s a fun, no-fuss summer drink that can be thrown together on the fly with whatever spirits or fruit you have on hand.
Whiskey Smash vs. Mint Julep
The primary difference between these two cocktails is that the Smash incorporates fruit, particularly citrus, in addition to mint. Both drinks are made with bourbon and sugar and originated in the American south.
The method of preparation of the Smash varies wildly, while Mint Juleps are nearly always prepared and served in the same cup and made with crushed ice. Mint Juleps are served in julep cups, while Smashes are served in just about anything that will contain liquid!
How to make a Whiskey Smash:
First, choose a whiskey. Bourbon is most common option, but as a rye whiskey fan, I opted to use the wonderful organic Single Barrel Rye from Koval Distillery. This is a high end bottle that I’d typically reserve for more ‘serious’ cocktails or sipping neat, but you only live once, and I love how this whiskey elevates such a simple cocktail.
Some great whiskies to try in a Smash are Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, and Maker’s Mark.
Next, slice a small lemon in half lengthwise, and cut the half into wedges. Drop the wedges into a cocktail shaker and muddle them thoroughly to release the juices and oils from the peel.
Add 10 mint leaves to the shaker and press on them gently with the muddler, using care not to beat the leaves up too much. Mint is a delicate herb, and over-muddling can cause it to taste bitter, so go easy.
Add the simple syrup and whiskey to the shaker, then fill it three quarters with ice. Shake until chilled, then fine strain the liquid into a double rocks glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a bouquet of fresh mint.
This is my preferred method for making and enjoying a Whiskey Smash, but there are other variations to consider:
Make and serve in the same glass. To make the Whiskey Smash even easier, use a heavy bottomed double rocks glass and add the lemon directly to the glass.
Muddle the lemon, then add the mint and muddle gently. Fill the glass with crushed ice, add the simple syrup and whiskey, and stir several times to chill. Top the glass with more crushed ice and garnish with fresh mint. Serve with a straw (or a Julep strainer if you want to go 1880s old school!)
Blackberry Whiskey Smash. This variation muddles a few fresh blackberries with the lemon wedges for a fruity twist.
You can also try adding blueberries (one of my favorites that I’ve shared a few times on Instagram), fresh strawberries or peaches for those lazy July afternoons, or even chunks of pineapple for a delicious tropical flavor twist on the classic.
You may also like:
- 2 oz whiskey (try it with bourbon or rye!)
- ¾ oz simple syrup
- ½ lemon, cut into wedges
- 10 mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- Add the lemon wedges to a cocktail shaker and muddle well to release the juices and oils from the peel.
- Add the mint leaves to the shaker and muddle gently.
- Pour in the whiskey and simple syrup and fill the shaker ¾ with ice.
- Shake until chilled, then fine strain the liquid into a double rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with mint.