There’s something inexplicably satisfying about taking the best of the summer fruits and berries and smashing them. Whether you do it in a blender or with a muddler, watching the juices and goodness be released is incredibly satisfying.
Of course, if you are cocktail minded, there is a fair chance that you are going to be smashing these fruits into some sort of Smash cocktail. Now a Smash is a bit like a Mint Julep but with seasonal fruit.
Now, if you think that explanation of what a Smash is sounded a little bit vague, well it kind of has to be. You see while the Smash is an acknowledged family of cocktails, what really makes it up has always been a little bit hard to define.
Sure a Smash could easily be interpreted as fruity, icy concoctions that highlight the best of the season, both in terms of produce and booze, which just makes it sound like a Julep. And here is probably the only rule worth knowing about a Smash – a smash is a julep, but a julep is not always a smash.
A little history …
Now, back in the 1880s, a barman called Harry Johnson was probably the first to write that a Smash was different from a Julep. Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender’s Manual, or How to Mix Drinks in the Present Style was published in 1882.
Johnson does include four distinct smash recipes. His Old Style Whiskey Smash is a casual concoction of sugar, water, mint, “small pieces” of ice and one “wineglass” of whiskey (about 2 oz.). He added that to a glass with “fruits in season,”, gave it a mix and served it with a julep strainer.
In contrast, his Fancy Whiskey Smash. is stirred and strained into a “fancy bar glass” and “ornamented with fruit.” Johnson’s Fancy Brandy Smash is nearly identical, though brandy replaces whiskey, and his Medford Rum Smash only differs from the other “fancy” smashes in that it calls for “fine ice” rather than shaved, and it’s served in a sour glass rather than a “fancy bar glass.”
Other than the fact that these drinks seem to have been strained before serving, Johnson’s smashes resemble many of today’s interpretations.
Though there are often more variables these days—sometimes the ice is crushed, sometimes shaved, sometimes the fruit is added to the drink, sometimes it’s just a garnish—the basic elements remain consistent: a spirit base, ice, sometimes a splash of water, mint (or other herb), sugar, and the ever-present seasonal fruit.
A Julep by any other name
The smash also makes an appearance in 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. Included under the umbrella of Juleps, the Smash is listed as a variation on the theme.
The Savoy’s Southern Mint Julep calls for powdered sugar, four sprigs of mint and “1 glass of bourbon, rye or Canadian Club.” Directly below that recipe sits the books’ tiny section on smashes, which simply, and tellingly, says: “The ‘Smash’ is in effect a Julep on a small plan.”
The accompanying recipe is indeed a sort of short julep, calling for a “small glass” and a wider array of spirit choices: “Either Bacardi Rum, Brandy, Gin, Irish Whisky or Scotch Whisky as fancy dictates.”
Like many cocktails, the question of the smash’s exact definition is a question of semantics. The smash is an open-ended cocktail, freely variable and seasonally flexible. There must be ice, though you may strain it out if you prefer. Also, there should be fruit in season, though you may use it simply as a garnish. Finally, there should be a spirit base, though you may use your spirit of choice. Mint is a classic choice, though many other herbs can work.
At its heart, the smash is a wonderfully forgiving and flexible drink, made for hot days, for using what’s on hand and for smashing it all together over ice for pure sipping bliss.