A Wiskey Smash for Derby Day - the Mint Julep’s lesser known cousin

Brian Rung

    Horses, celebrities and over-sized hats are coming soon to a television near you as we approach 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.
    The Mint Julep is without a doubt the darling of the Derby, and this year an estimated 127,000 Mint Juleps will be made from over 1,000 pounds of mint.  
    If you make it to the Derby, by all means grab a Mint Julep. If you're watching at home, take the opportunity to meet the Julep's lesser known cousin, the Whiskey Smash.
    I'll have to be honest with you, I have never been crazy about the Mint Julep.  Seems like I have one or two a year at a Kentucky Derby watch party, and I am okay to wait a year to have another.
    I am a fan of mint and I am a fan of whiskey. As a lover of classic cocktails, it seems like I would be first in line for a good Mint Julep. The drink has always fallen a bit flat on my palate, like there's something missing.
    A few years ago I found what I was missing. I collect vintage cocktail/bartending books and have encountered several variations of the Whiskey Smash, which began life as a Julep over 150 years ago.
    The first time I glanced at a Smash recipe I thought that it was simply another name for a Mint Julep as the two cocktails both use sugar, bourbon and muddled mint.  
    The “something extra” in a Smash cocktail is the addition of citrus, specifically “seasonal” citrus.
    The Smash family of cocktails has evolved into one of the most diverse sub-types of cocktails. Simply put, a Smash is your favorite spirit, herb (usually mint), sugar and citrus.
    As long as you work within those parameters you have a smash. There are Tequila Smashes, Gin Smashes and Brandy Smashes. If it's a spirit, you can smash it.
    The most common citrus used in the modern-day smash is fresh lemon juice. Lemon juice plays well in cocktails with whiskey, sugar and mint. By the way, the Smash is not strictly a “Southern” cocktail like the Mint Julep.
    The Whiskey Smash is riding high on the classic cocktail revival wave and is currently one of the more popular whiskey cocktails on the New York bar scene.
    A quick online search for a Whiskey Smash recipe will yield a wide array of recipes. The recipe featured this week is the contemporary version of the Whiskey Smash that you are likely to encounter in your local bar.
    You're wide open on the whiskey here. I prefer bourbon because it tends to mix well as opposed to the bolder rye or Canadian whiskey.
     However, if you love rye or Canadian, use what you love. This is one of the most forgiving cocktail platforms that you will ever encounter. Have fun with it.
    Always be gentle when muddling mint. The tannins contain bitter oils which if released can overpower the cool mint flavor in your cocktail.
    Only muddle with enough pressure to release the flavor. You are muddling too hard if your leaves are breaking into tiny pieces. Keep the leaves intact for the most part.
    Most, if not all, Smash and Julep recipes prior to the 1950's call for a measure of sugar, but I prefer to use simple syrup in place of sugar in my home bar.
     Simple syrup is in a liquid state when it is added to the drink and therefore mixes better than raw sugar would, and also the syrup will not leave undissolved granules in your cocktail.
    I use a 1:1 simple syrup (one part sugar dissolved into one part water) in most cocktails, but some recipes call for a 2:1 sugar to water syrup for a richer sweetness.
    It is a matter of personal preference. Keep in mind that you can use less simple syrup if you use the 2:1 ratio.  
    The Whiskey Smash is built in a shaker and served in a chilled double Old Fashioned glass.
    Combine in shaker:
    4 or 5 leaves of mint.
    3/4 oz fresh lemon juice.
    3/4 oz simple syrup.
    1 1/2 oz bourbon.
    Lightly muddle ingredients.
    Add ice to shaker and shake well.
    Strain into chilled double Old Fashioned glass.
    Top with fresh ice, garnish with mint sprig.
    The minimum guaranteed purse for this year's Kentucky Derby winner is $2 million.
    A Mint Julep will set you back about $11 at the Derby, and you will have to wait in line as crowds on Derby day can reach over 150,000 people.
    Of those 150,000, only 50,000 fans will be seated inside Churchill Downs. Perhaps this year's winner will buy a round for those in attendance. Don't hold your breath, Derby fans.
    Until next week, enjoy responsibly.