Walk by a farmers market these days and you'll almost certainly be lured into a stand by the sweet smell of strawberries. It's that time of year when the little red jewels are scarlet all the way through and bursting with flavor.
Always looking for ways to bring seasonal finds into my cocktails, I started tinkering with some of my favorite strawberry flavor combinations. The result is a summery take on the classic whiskey smash. Strawberries are muddled with lemon to create a juicy base, then a little strawberry syrup is added for a bit of sweetness and to balance the tartness of the lemon. The balsamic acts as bitters, and then of course a hefty pour of bourbon is added, because what's a smash without the bourbon?
The result is a crimson cocktail with flavor as bold as the color. The strawberries and bourbon work together to create a rich and intense sweetness that is cut by the lemon and balsamic. It's the kind of cocktail that makes you do a double-take but it drinks with embarrassing ease.
- For the strawberry syrup:
- 2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3-inch piece of lemon peel
- For the cocktail:
- 4 strawberries, hulled
- 1 round slice of lemon, cut in half
- 1 ounce strawberry syrup
- 1/2 ounce balsamic vinegar
- 2 ounces bourbon
- Garnish: additional strawberry
To make the syrup, combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon rind in a saucepan. Cover and let sit for 1 hour at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
Once the sugar has dissolved and the strawberries have released their liquid, bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring gently, until the berries are tender, about 3 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked strawberries to a pint jar. Continue simmering the syrup until it thickens to a syrupy consistency, about 2 minutes. Discard lemon peel and pour syrup over berries. Let cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge for up to 1 month.
To make the cocktail: muddle 4 fresh strawberries and the lemon in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the strawberry syrup, balsamic, and bourbon, then fill the shaker with ice.
Shake vigorously until well chilled, about 15 seconds. Using both the cocktail strainer and a fine mesh strainer, strain the cocktail into a glass. Garnish with a strawberry.