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How to Make a Whiskey Smash

The Derby-inspired drink that'll have you saying "I'll have another" well into summer.
Illustration: Matt Weems

Call it the insider's julep.

Mint and whiskey (bourbon whiskey, to be precise) have enjoyed a long and rewarding partnership—one that immediately invokes snorting thoroughbreds, tiny men in silk pajamas, and women in giant hats. But in fact, the shaved ice refreshment known as the mint julep is not the only cocktail to provide a meeting ground for these two great tastes that taste great together. “Smashes” appeared as a brief category in the original cocktail book, Jerry Thomas’ highly influential How To Mix Drinks (first published in 1887). Thomas described the category thusly: “this drink is simply a julep on a small plan.” And it was, since his julep called for a fruit salad of fresh berries and orange slices, dashed with Jamaica rum and sprinkled with white sugar. In fact, the humble whiskey smash—made with whiskey, water, sugar, two pressed sprigs of mint, and served in a small glass filled with shaved ice—is basically a modern mint julep, watered down. Which is probably why we forgot about it. And why, when it reappeared, it had been sexed-up with muddled lemon, resembling something like a whiskey mojito. The Whiskey Smash redux endured. Sure, it makes a delicious and refreshing alternative to your standard julep at Derby time,* but this is the sort of libation that you’ll want to keep on sipping all summer long.  Also, most recipes now do away with crushed ice, which, if you’ve ever battered on a bag of ice with a muddler, is reason enough to mix a round.

*Note that, as of this writing, there are no suitable alternatives for the hats.

Whiskey Smash
Adapted from the recipe found in The Craft of the Cocktail, By Dale DeGroff.

3 lemon wedges (taken from a half a lemon, quartered)
5 to 7 fresh mint leaves (depending on size)
¾ oz simple syrup
2 oz W. L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon
Sprig of fresh mint

Muddle lemon, mint and simple syrup in a mixing glass (and take it easy, you’re not making a pesto). Add bourbon and ice; shake. Strain into an old fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with mint sprig.  In his book, Dale suggests substituting orange curacao for simple syrup for a tasty alternative. If you’re going to go that route, we recommend Pierre Ferrand’s new Dry Orange Curacao, a recreation of the original liqueur.

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