If you had to pick a drink that epitomized that part of the year when spring gives way to summer, the mint julep would be strong in the running. Typically trotted out every May for Kentucky Derby parties, the julep has the rich flavor of bourbon--a holdover from the cooler months, when darker spirits prevail--along with the cooling effects of fresh mint and crushed ice. All in all, the mint julep is a perfect drink for the season.
It's also a freaking pain to make. I absolutely love the things, but even I have a hard time going through the julep's elaborate preparation ritual all that often. Fortunately, the wizards of classic mixology also gave us the Smash.
Described by bartender Jerry Thomas in 1862 as "a julep on a small plan," the Smash has all the things I love about a julep, with much less of the hassle. And even better, the smash is flexible: While forests have been decimated to create the paper on which countless screeds concerning the One True Way to make a julep have been printed, the Smash can go whichever way you choose--it's equally good made with bourbon, rye, brandy, or a good aged rum (and while I haven't tried it, probably even gin), and you can simply put the mint in the glass as you add everything else, or go a bit more elaborate by shaking the drink and straining it over fresh ice. Whichever direction you choose, the smash is willing to go there—and at the beginning of a long summer, it's good to have a flexible go-to drink that suits any mood.
Note: Bourbon and rye work equally well in a Whiskey Smash; a Brandy Smash is a very fine thing when made with VSOP cognac, and a Santa Cruz Smash, made with a good aged rum such as Cruzan Single Barrel, is also excellent.
- 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
- 2 teaspoons water
- 2 ounces bourbon (see note)
- Fresh mint
Process #1: In a rocks or old fashioned glass, dissolve the sugar in the water. Lightly press 6 to 8 mint leaves in the syrup, then add the spirits and stir. Fill glass with cracked ice and insert a mint sprig as garnish; if you feel fancy, you can garnish with fresh berries and an orange wheel as well.
Alternatively, dissolve sugar in water in a cocktail shaker; add mint and spirits. Shake well with ice and strain through a fine strainer into a rocks or old fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish as above.