The template for Smash Cocktails is older than you might think and dates back to the 19th century. The basic Smash recipe is quite loosely defined, though, and depends on the interpretation of a bartender.
It's a mix of base spirit, fruit, ice, and mint that leaves room for interpretation in almost every part of its template.
Sounds overly vague to you? It is. Because even though Smashes are accepted as a family of cocktails, the ingredients are not clearly defined. Plus, sometimes it is served on ice, and sometimes, it is not.
So, let's take a closer look at what seems quite confusing at first sight.
What Are Smash Cocktails?
In general, a Smash is a cocktail made with a base spirit, ice, a herbal component (often mint), and a fruity component. The base spirit can vary, as can the herbal ingredients.
The fruity part is often made with some sort of citrus fruit and optionally seasonal ingredients, either incorporated into the drink or served as garnish. Some are served with crushed ice, others with shaved ice or with no ice at all but frozen fruit instead.
These Smashes, Smashers, or Smash-Up Cocktails are their own family of drinks closely related to Julep Cocktails. It is an old cocktail template that dates back to the mid-1800s.
Smash Vs. Julep Cocktails
Looking at the classic Whiskey Smash, you cannot fail to note the similarities to the ingredients for a Mint Julep. And, indeed, the Smash is a subtype of the Julep. -Thus, every Smash is a Julep, but not every Julep is a Smash.
One major distinction between other Julep Drinks and Smashes is the preparation. For regular Juleps, you stir in the fresh mint gently, whereas, for a Smash, the mint leaves are muddled and smashed rather heavily.
Another difference is the addition of fruit. Smash cocktails often -but not always- incorporate seasonal fruit as part of the drink or cocktail garnish. A regular Julep does not.
History Of The Smash Cocktail
Cocktail book author and drink historian David Wondrich claims that Smashes have been around since the 1840s.
He states that this cocktail category even reached its peak in popularity as early as the 1850s. This snippet from 1859 describing a young man's college experience supports Wondrich's theory:
"…he acquired the proper proficiency in Greek, Latin, Mathematics, slang, billiards, and Brandy Smashes."
The statement had been published in Harper's Magazin (a forerunner of Harper's Bazaar) three years before the first printed version of a Smash cocktail was published in 1862.
The very first recipe introducing the idea for the Smash in written form was published by Jerry Thomas in 1862. He indirectly mentioned the template as the twist of a Julep in his legendary cocktail book How to Mix Drinks.
Smash Drinks As A Category
The first printed Smash recipes followed a few years later, in 1888, published by Harry Johnson in his Improved Bartender Manual as an independent category. Johnson presented four different approaches at once. - You see, already at this early stage, the drink was subject to interpretation.
He asked for some to be served with crushed ice, others with shaved ice. Some with fruit as an ingredient, and others called for fruit as a garnish. For instance, his Whiskey Smash was close to the Mint Julep - shaken and made with whiskey, sugar, mint, crushed ice, and seasonal fruits.
He even nicknamed the ones stirred, not shaken, and served with fruit on the side "fancy Smash cocktail" recipes.
Finally, in 1930, the famed Savoy Cocktail Book included the template for the Smash and listed it as a variation of the Julep cocktail. Literally, they stated that the "Smash’ is, in effect, a Julep on a small plan."
Over time the original template evolved. Today, Smash cocktails sometimes include citrus juice, muddled fruits, and sometimes also more exotic herbs like basil.
Popular Smash Cocktails
The most widespread recipe certainly is the Whiskey Smash. In the 1990s, bartending legend Dale DeGroff brought the Whiskey Smash back to life. He declared he was bored of serving regular Mint Juleps and started muddling mint leaves with lemon juice and shaking up the whiskey-based smasher.
That started a renaissance of the Smash template and soon other bartenders followed DeGroff's approach.
More recently, a gin-based Smash variation created by German bartender Jörg Meyer entered the stage. His combination of lemon, basil, and Gin soon became the most popular Smash cocktail of modern times: The Gin Basil Smash.
If you want to try the original, there's clearly no better way than ordering at Meyer's Bar le Lion - one of the most popular cocktail bars in Hamburg.
- 1 Jigger
- 1 Muddler
- 1 Cocktail Shaker
- 1 Hawthorne Strainer
- 2 oz Bourbon
- 3 Lemon wedges - (or approx. 0.75oz lemon juice)
- 0.75 oz Simple syrup
- 1 splash Lemon juice
- 8-10 Mint leaves
- 1 Sprig of mint - (for garnish)
- Put lemon wedges into a cocktail shaker and muddle them to release juice and oils.3 Lemon wedges
- Add Bourbon, syrup, and mint leaves together with ice. Add an additional splash of fresh lemon juice for an extra kick of acidity.2 oz Bourbon, 0.75 oz Simple syrup, 1 splash Lemon juice, 8-10 Mint leaves
- Shake for 15 seconds or until the drink is well-chilled.
- Now, double strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass.
- Garnish with a sprig of mint.1 Sprig of mint