In Cocktail Recipes, Nerdery

The Smash, that minty, icy concoction that highlights the best of summer cocktail season, has been popular for almost two centuries. It’s a refreshing, straightforward drink, made on the classic cocktail template of spirit + sugar + herb (+ acid). This combination is the one rule of the Smash, and it sets the scene for endless variations.

The Recipe

It’s a delicious and fairly straightforward drink, so it lends itself well to customization (really, almost anything you can think of will work). Our basic recipe is as follows:

Classic Smash

2 oz North Shore Spirit of Choice
¾ oz Mint-infused Simple*
¾ oz Fresh Lemon Juice

Shake ingredients with ice, then strain into chilled coupe glass or rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint or a lemon twist, or both. Add some fresh berries if you want, or any other summer fruit.

*or muddle 6-12 mint leaves (depending on size) with plain simple syrup.

July 2023 Drink of the Month: Blueberry Smash

6 – 8 Blueberries (from a local farmstand, if you can get ’em)
¾ oz Fresh Lemon Juice
¾ oz Mint-infused Simple (or you can use plain and muddle in 6-12 mint leaves)

1½ oz NSD Spirit of Choice

Muddle first three ingredients in mixing tin, then add spirit and shake with ice. Double strain into rocks glass filled with ice & garnish with a sprig of mint or a blueberry skewer, or both. Cheers!

The Variations

Because the original Smash recipe is refreshingly simple, it easily lends itself to customization.

  • Choose Your Spirit: this cocktail will be delicious when made with almost any spirit — whiskey, gin & vodka all make fairly popular versions, but you can venture further by trying Aquavit – Private Reserve, Sirène Absinthe Verte (the mint goes so well with that intensely herbal profile!) or Twisted Citrus Vodka. Third Coast Rum also makes a delicious smash, but that’s veering suspiciously close to a Mojito … but you get the idea.
  • Switch Out Your Herb: mint isn’t the only way to make a smash! If you don’t have a ton of mint in your garden to use up, pick another herb:
    • Basil: this herb is surprisingly versatile — we’ve even tried a basil smash with whiskey before, and thought it was great! Basil is also a classic pairing with summer fruit; try it with strawberry or raspberry.
    • Sage: this herb lends itself more to the fall season, so it makes a great replacement when mint is past its season. Try it with blackberry, or get adventurous with blueberry or apricot.
    • Lavender: this herb is more on the floral side of herbs, rather than the savory side, so it can be a great choice to pair with desserts or tea. Good flavor pairings include blueberry,  honey, apple & strawberry.
    • And there are even more great options, like rosemary, lemon thyme, dill, cilantro (if that’s your thing), or lemongrass.
    • Pro Tips: always ensure herbs are washed before using, and remove the stems. Adjust recipes based on
      leaf size and flavor intensity of the herbs you’re using.
  • Add A Fruit: this has been discussed above, but fresh fruit muddled into a smash is so good. We suggest using seasonal fruits, and fortunately for us the bountiful harvest of late-summer usually coincides with the frantic rush to use up our barrel of mint, which has been growing like gangbusters all summer. The upper Midwest growing season highlights includeed:
    • Spring/Early Summer: strawberry, rhubarb, sour cherry
    • Mid-Late Summer: blueberry, apricot, sweet cherry, watermelon, peach, pear, raspberry — this is peak Fruit Smash time!
    • Fall: apple, blackberry, cranberry, pear — in addition to mint, sage is a great fall herb to pair with these flavors.
    • Winter: grapefruit, lime, lemon, orange — it’s citrus season!
    • The best way to tell what’s in season is seeing what’s available at the farmer’s market or from a local co-op.
  • Add Spice: if you really love a spicy kick, throw in a slice of jalapeno or serrano when you’re muddling in your ingredients. We think spice goes particularly well with watermelon & mint, or strawberry & basil.

Smash History

This cocktail’s presence reaches far, far back into the annals of cocktail history. It’s included in the earliest significant published collection of cocktail recipes, Jerry Thomas’ 1862 volume (aptly entitled How To Mix Drinks). He referred to this cocktail as “the julep on a small plan” and it is indeed a more relaxed, laid-back version of that famously minty cocktail. Thomas’ recipe went as follows:

½ table-spoonful of white sugar
1 do. water
1 wine-glass of brandy

Fill two-thirds with shaved ice, use two sprigs of mint, the same as the recipe for mint julep. Lay two small pieces of orange on top, and ornament with berries of the season.

In the intervening years, this recipe has been expanded to include lemon juice to balance out the sweet sugar (and it usually includes more than two sprigs of mint). Otherwise, it’s a recipe that’s stuck the test of time — much more-so than its predecessor, the Mint Julep, which is famous for being a fussy drink to make well and garnish.

If you try your hand at Smash variations, please let us know what you come up with!