bourbon smash recipe, whiskey smash, bourbon smash cockail, what is a smash cocktail?

Bourbon Smash

Recipe

 

  • 2 oz bourbon

  • ¾ oz simple syrup (or to taste, depending on how big the lemon is.)

  • 8-10 mint leaves, plus 2 mint sprigs for garnish

  • half a lemon, quartered

   

In a shaker, muddle the lemon and mint in simple syrup.  Be sure to hit each lemon piece at least once (but don't over-muddle, of course).  Add the bourbon, fill the shaker with ice, shake for 8-10 seconds and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice.  I like to crack a few cubes and add them at the end for some extra dilution. Garnish with the mint sprigs.

 

Overview

Hyperbole alert: the Bourbon Smash, aka Whiskey Smash, is my favorite shaken whiskey cocktail.  It’s basically a hybrid of a Mint Julep and a Whiskey Sour (a mint julep with lemon, or a whiskey sour with mint, depending on your perspective) but with one key adjustment: muddled lemon wedges. 

 

As with the Caipirinha and some of my Gimlet recipes, muddling the wedges not only extracts the juice but also the oils in the rind, which adds an intensely bright citrus note that takes this drink from tasty drink to exceptionally delicious.  Citrus, mint, bourbon…nirvana this way lies. 

 

It’s a killer of a crowd pleaser, everyone loves it.  In fact, the Bourbon Smash was one of two drinks I served it at my wedding. I love it that much.  Make one today!

If you make a Bourbon Smash,

let me see!  Tag a photo with #socialhourcocktails on Instagram.

Bourbon Smash Variations

Like its parents, the Whiskey Sour and Mint Julep, the Bourbon Smash is a great cocktail template full of modifying potential.  You can plug in different spirits, herbs, sweeteners or add fruits like strawberry, raspberries, peach or any of the other usual suspects.   Here are some of the whiskey-based Smash variations I love.  But as I often say in these situations, the possibilities are endless.  

 
 

Ginger Smash

This is stunningly delicious.  For bourbon and ginger lovers, there may be no better cocktail  (sorry, the hyperbole on this page is getting out of hand, but I speak the truth!).  You’ll have to make ginger syrup of course, which requires a juicer - though I’m working on a simpler, less equipment heavy method, stay tuned.  This is a variation that itself is primed for further variations. Try using basil instead of mint or adding half an ounce of peach liqueur, in which case you’ll want to pull back on the ginger syrup to half an ounce as well.

 

  • 2 oz bourbon

  • ¾ oz ginger syrup

  • half a lemon quartered

  • 8-10 mint leaves

 

Prepare as above.

 

Chamomile Basil Smash

I love this flavor combo.  It's like a mellow stroll through the garden. Note the chamomile syrup is a rich 2:1 syrup.

 

  • 2 oz bourbon

  • scant ¾ oz chamomile syrup

  • half a lemon quartered

  • 6-8 basil leaves, the fresher the better

 

Prepare as above.

 

Chamomile syrup

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/2 cup boiling water

  • 2 chamomile tea bags, or tablespoons of loose tea.

 

Steep the tea in the water for half an hour.  Remove the tea and add the sugar and stir until it dissolves.  You will probably want to add a little more heat, either in the microwave or over the stove, to speed things along.  Just be careful not to let it boil.  Store this in the refrigerator, it will keep for months.

Chartreuse Smash

Chartreuse junkies rejoice!  This is based on another drink from me and Julie’s consulting work, this one was for the opening menu of the Park Hyatt on 57th Street in Manhattan.  Originally used a 50/50 split of green and yellow Chartreuse, but I, being one of those aforementioned Chartreuse junkies, prefer the more intense and potent green.  Though whatever Chartreuse you have in stock will work fine, just perhaps use a little less simple syrup with yellow.

 

  • 1½ oz bourbon

  • ¾ oz Green Chartreuse, plus about teaspoon for floating.

  • ½ oz simple syrup

  • half a lemon quartered

  • 8-10 mint leaves

Prepare as above, and float a teaspoon or so for Green Chartreuse.

 

Georgia Smash

Julie Reiner and I put this on the menu at Bar 54, the rooftop bar at the Hyatt in Times Square which we still design the menu.  It’s a simple riff that combines the peach element of the Georgia Julep with the Smash.  Because the only thing better than bourbon, citrus, and mint; is bourbon, citrus, mint, and peach.

 

  • 2 oz bourbon

  • ½ oz peach liqueur

  • ½ oz simple syrup

  • half a lemon quartered

  • 8-10 mint leaves

 

Prepare as above.

 

 
 

The History of the Whiskey (Bourbon) Smash - A Personal Detective Story

 

Dale DeGroff’s 2003 Whiskey Smash

The Bourbon Smash has been on my radar for almost as long as I’ve been into cocktails.  I first encountered it in Dale DeGroff’s 2008 book “The Essential Cocktail”, one of the first books I drank my way through (my copy is a total mess now). There, it’s listed as the Whiskey Smash and uses curaçao instead of simple syrup.  When I started barbacking at Clover Club in 2009 the drink appeared on our summer menu in our “Juleps and Smashes” section as the Bourbon Smash, and it was made with simple syrup.  This is the version I fell in love with, which is closer to the recipe in Dale's first book, the 2003 classic “The Craft of the Cocktail” where the drink first appeared.

 

A little background on Dale DeGroff. He's the man largely - and rightly - credited with bringing proper cocktails back to life in the late 1980s when he ran the bar at the Rainbow room (he also popularized the Cosmo).   He is literally a living legend.  I’ll be calling him Dale, from here on out - as he’s known in the industry.  

 

Jerry Thomas’ 19th Century Whiskey Smash

A little while later, I ran into some questions while picking through old cocktail books, as bar nerds like me often do.  I realized there was also a drink called Whiskey Smash dating back the 19th century.  Most notably, there's a recipe for one in the 1876 edition of Jerry Thomas’ Bon Vivant’s Bar-Tenders Guide - the first 1862 edition is widely regarded as the first bonafide cocktail book ever written.  It has a whole page dedicated to Smashes, one with Brandy, one with gin and one with Whiskey.  But it was not the same Smash I had been making.  This was nothing more than a short mint julep, or as Thomas says, “a julep on a small plan.” His Mint Julep recipe calls for 1½ wine glasses (3 oz) of spirit and 1 tablespoon sugar, while the smash has 1 wine glass (2 oz) spirit and a half tablespoon sugar.  There were no lemon wedges in sight, which to me is the linchpin of Dale’s Smash.  I reread other old recipes looking for clues to a connection between Thomas’ Smash and Dale’s Smash.  I thought maybe some old version would be garnished with them or something, but there was nothing.

 

Thankfully, David Wondrich exists.  His book Imbibe! sheds some light on the 19th-century smash. He explains it “gets its name from the way the mint was smashed up in the shaking.”  (Thomas’ recipe doesn’t call for shaking, neither does the Smash in Harry Johnson’s his 1882 bartender’s manual. But I’ll take Wondrich’s word for it, of course.) He continues, “it’s a quick bracer rather than a slow sipper; you don’t hear of Smashes coming with straws.” True, while Thomas’ Julep and Smash recipes are virtually identical, the Julep is fussier.  It has more garnish, a few dashes of Jamaican rum floated on top and a final sprinkling sugar.

 

Wondrich also notes that “from its first appearance in the mid-1930s until after the Civil War, the Smash was just about the most popular thing going…[but] eventually, it pulled back into it’s the orbit of its parent, the julep, and one ceased to hear much about it.”  Ok, so the Smash was a pared down Mint Julep, but in essence, it was still pretty much a Mint Julep.  Which I gotta say, is a bit of a stretch, even for Jerry Thomas, but I digress.

 

What's the Deal?!

So obviously Dale had riffed on the old recipe by adding lemon wedges, which transforms it into a totally new drink, one that’s very different from a Julep.  Made perfect sense, but I was struck that no one seemed to acknowledge the two contrasting versions. Afterall, there’s a whole debate surrounding whether Old Fashioneds are made with muddled fruit or just sugar and bitters (though recently, conventional opinion seems to have largely settled on the latter, thankfully).  Why isn't there a similar discussion around the smash?  

 

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Dale changing the drink at all, in fact, I’d say he improved it. I just wanted to know more.  Specifically how he came up with the idea.  

 

Until recently Google yielded surprisingly few answers.  There were plenty of recipes, mostly for Dale’s muddled lemon version, but they hardly ever an acknowledge the drink’s origins. Then there are articles like this one from Imbibe which is all about the 19th-century smash but doesn’t discuss Dale’s modern take.  What gives?? 

 

With the mountains of bar nerd-ism on the internet, I thought someone would have gotten to the bottom of this by now.  So I decided to take up the mantle myself.  Lucky for me, Julie Reiner, owner of Clover Club and my partner, is good friends with Dale so I, by association, know him too.  So I decided I would go straight to the source and ask him directly.

 

Answers Emerge

Then at almost the exact moment I was going to send an email, Punch, the wonderful drink-focussed website, beat me to it.  They ran an article profiling some of Dale’s drinks, including a riff on his Whiskey Smash and asked him the very same questions I had.  I won’t lie, I was a little bummed, but at least I got some answers.  The following quotes are taken from that article:

 

Turns out, Dale’s primary inspiration for his Whiskey Smash came from a different drink in Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide: the Whiskey Cobbler, which is listed 2 pages after the Smashes. The cobbler calls for 2 orange wedges to be shaken together with whiskey and some sugar.  As he says: “The Whiskey Cobbler rocked my world….It wasn’t a good drink as listed, [but] what rocked my world was Thomas shaking fresh fruit in a cocktail...I took that [cobbler] idea and added it to Thomas’ Whiskey Smash recipe…I was bored with juleps made with just sugar booze and mint…[but with the smash] I didn’t just shake the fruit in the drink—I muddled it with mint.”

 

Well, that settled it.  Dale was bored with Juleps and excited about Cobblers with fresh citrus pieces (indeed there are tons of cobbler riffs in Craft of the Cocktail).  Case closed.  Dale went on in the article to talk about the spread of the drink’s popularity, explaining the Whiskey Smash’s menu debut was at Bobby Flay’s 2005 Bar American, which he consulted on. From there Jackson Cannon put it on the menu at Eastern Standard in Boston where they sold them in hordes.   Then “lots of pals” started using it, including Audrey Saunders at Pegu Club and Julie Reiner at Flatiron and Clover Club.  

 

With the mention of Clover, it had all came full circle.  I was satisfied, as well as surprised to learn that when I first encountered the drink it was, in fact, relatively early in its lifetime, because it felt like gospel to me back then.

 

Even though my scoop was blown.  I decided to email Dale anyway to ask some follow-up questions and, admittedly, get the satisfaction of a direct answer. He was responded swiftly and thoroughly, during Tales of the Cocktail no less.  This guy is the real deal.

 

One question I asked in particular was about the name, I wondered why he changed the Smash the drink but not its name. He acknowledged his drink is really “a smash meets the whiskey cobbler.... [and] it would have been wise to indicate that with a modifier like Whiskey Smash Retooled”.  I appreciated him saying so, but now I don’t think he needed to.  Clearly, I was the only one confused and over-thinking it, as I always do.   And as I said, I think Dale’s version of the Whiskey Smash is an upgrade.  In muddling those lemon wedges, he didn’t just invent a new cocktail, he invented a new cocktail category.   At Clover Club we’ve employed the drink as a template several times, as you can see in some of my favorite examples above. 

 

So after all that, as far as I’m concerned Dale deserves full credit.  Henceforth, I shall consider the Whiskey Smash to unequivocally be a shaken mint julep variation, with muddled lemon wedges.  End of story.  

 

Phew, that was a long one.  Time for drink.

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tom@socialhourcocktails.com Brooklyn, NY

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