Descanso Beach Smash Recipe

Marleigh Riggins Miller

For the whiskey chapter in Food & Wine Cocktails 2011 the editors made a very wise choice in John Coltharp, who ran the program at Seven Grand, the whiskey-focused bar in downtown Los Angeles. I've known John for a number of years and he is one of the most knowledgeable whiskey drinkers I've ever encountered, as well as a top-notch bartender. He truly loves whiskey in all its iterations—bourbon, rye, Irish, Scotch, Canadian, blended, single malt, unaged; that love and his storehouse of spirits information show through in the drinks he selected (many of which he created) for the chapter. It reads very much like a who's-who of the whiskies of the world.

The drinks range from spicy-rich cocktails featuring Angostura bitters, Chartreuse or ginger beer to lighter, fruity concoctions featuring fresh citrus and mint. The Descanso Beach Smash is one of the latter, spiked with the spicy flavor of rye and bitter Aperol. Created by Coltharp while he was vacationing near Catalina Island, it has the lightness you want in a drink by the pool but without the cloying sweetness so often associated with "vacation" cocktails. As a bonus, it only requires two liqueurs to make. The remaining ingredients are fresh citrus and simple syrup, quickly and easily made at home with ingredients from the pantry.

Overall, this smash is a lovely, light and delicious drink for summer drinking. Almost any rye on the market will make a great drink. Start with Russell's Reserve 6-year Rye, Bulleit 95% Rye, Rittenhouse or Redemption; if those brands are unavailable the more common Old Overholt, Jim Beam Rye or Wild Turkey Rye will all work. There isn't a substitute for Aperol, but if you can't find it Campari will do in a pinch—you may need to adjust the sweetness some, since Campari is a bit more aggressively bitter.

Recipe Facts

Active: 5 mins
Total: 5 mins
Serves: 1 serving

Rate & Comment


  • 4 slices of lemon
  • 5 mint leaves
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce Aperol
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 3 small orange wedges and a sprig of mint for garnish


  1. Add the lemon slices and mint leaves to your shaker and muddle well.

  2. Add ice and all remaining ingredients (except the garnish). Shake well.

  3. Strain into a double old fashioned or wine glass filled with ice. Garnish with the orange wedges on a pick and the mint sprig. Serve.

Special equipment

muddler and cocktail shaker