The smash belongs to a class of drinks, like the spritz or highball, whose construction is more a suggestion than a command. It’s easygoing, laissez faire—the cooler, more effortless sibling of the julep, with which it shares many characteristics (refreshing, simple, delicious) with none of the associated frippery (tin cup, derby hats, etc.). Once described by Jerry Thomas as the “julep on a small plan,” the smash—spirit, sugar and mint served on crushed ice—has always exhibited a preference for pragmatism over pomp.
Though historically the two are almost identical, save for size, early accounts suggest that a key difference lies in exactly how the mint is incorporated—either stirred into the drink, as is the case with Thomas’ julep, or muddled, in that of the smash. Today, however, in addition to being the more laid-back of the two, smashes are typically distinguished by the inclusion of citrus—a relatively recent addition, credited to Dale DeGroff. “I was a little bored of mint juleps,” he writes in The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Drinks, “so I mashed up some lemon with the mint.” Now considered a common base ingredient, the citrus has become part of the smash’s 20th-century calling card and a welcome companion to the array of fresh fruit that can easily slot into the drink’s spirit-citrus-herb construction—like watermelon, lime and mint muddled with mezcal, or blueberries, lemon and mint muddled with brandy.
Naturally, bartenders have picked up where DeGroff left off, adding everything from tequila to amaro. Even DeGroff himself has expanded the template by incorporating fresh muddled peaches in his Whiskey Peach Smash. TJ Lynch of Mother’s Ruin, meanwhile, sticks to the mint-plus-citrus combo but kicks it up a notch with heaps of extra mint and a hefty 12 dashes of Angostura bitters.
Elsewhere, simple substitutions prove the flexibility of the template. In his Harvest Smash, Chip Tyndale opts for an applejack base (“a brown liquor that would be appealing to everyone”) in the classic blueprint, alongside muddled blueberries in lieu of citrus. In the Gin Basil Smash, the two signature ingredients standing in for whiskey and mint are apparent in the name of this bona fide modern classic that’s become a European sensation.
Naturally, other bartenders have stretched the blueprint to its outer limits. Andrew Bohrer, for example, splits the base of his Bruja Smash between tequila and Strega, complemented by freshly muddled raspberries for an herbaceous, spiced spin on the style. And at Artusi in Seattle, the Averna Smash showcases bourbon, amaro, walnut oil and muddled cherry and orange, all made tall by the addition of bitter lemon soda. It’s become one of the bar’s most popular offerings and an irrefutable case for the smash’s place in the 21st-century canon of summer classics.