Rye Whiskey Smash/photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

With Derby Day upon us, our annual excuse to start drinking bourbon early on a Saturday, I must of course give a nod to a great cocktail, the mint julep—bourbon, sweetened, flavored and garnished with mint. My pal Blake Bailey, who introduced me to the drink one ill-fated spring day long ago (read about that day in his gripping new memoir The Splendid Things We Planned) would insist on crushed ice and I wouldn’t disagree, especially if you have swell julep glasses.

But my copyeditor, Karen Wise, sent me an article from the Boston Globe on four different cocktails in the Smash family. It’s not a common term, Smash, and there seems to be little definitive consensus. (“A smash is a julep, but a julep isn’t always a smash,” for instance, from Imbibe’s muddled history of the smash.)

After cursory and unsatisfactory poking around, it seems that smashes were drinks containing muddled herbs and sugar; they were popular in the mid-1800s; in Virginia they were considered an acceptable morning cocktail; some sources insist that fruit be muddled as well; some sources refer to them as junior versions of the julep; others as more bracing versions of the julep; some suggest topping with seltzer.

Given their origins more than 150 years ago and their popularity and strength, it would seem likely that this is why we have the term getting “smashed.”

I’ve given my version of the julep before (see ill-fated day, linked above), seriously pulverizing the mint with a pestle adding the bourbon, then straining over ice in a double old-fashioned glass. An even purer version of the julep would be to infuse the bourbon with mint so the alcohol didn’t turn green, then strain over crushed ice. And I would rename my mint julep a bourbon mint smash and garnish with lemon.

And in thinking about smashes (and wanting very much to try the tequila ginger-chilli smash the Globe writes about), I offer here an alternative Derby Day cocktail, the Rye Whiskey Smash, with mint and cherries. And yes, they’re meant to be strong (the race goes by in a flash).

And, given my determination to know terms definitively, I would also like to submit a definition of a contemporary smash: a smash denotes a drink containing a spirit, smashed or muddled herb, and some form of fruit, either smashed with the herb or used as a garnish.

I welcome alternatives, comments, and further education (preferably over ice).

Happy Friday, all!

Rye Whiskey Smash

  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 5 or so mint leaves
  • 3 maraschino cherries (real ones, and more for garnish if you wish)
  • 3 ounces rye whiskey
  • squeeze of lemon
  • 1 small mint sprig for garnish
  1. Combine the sugar, mint, and 3 cherries in a cocktail shaker. Thoroughly muddle them. (Pulverize them in a mortar if you wish.) Add the rye to the shaker and muddle some more.
  2. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass filled with ice.
  3. Garnish with a squeeze of lemon, extra cherries, and the mint sprig.

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© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


19 Wonderful responses to “Friday Cocktail Hour: Rye Whiskey Smash”

  • CN

    Ruhlman–You forgot to add the rye into the recipe!

    PS: Do you use granulated/table sugar at home for cocktails or cubes?

  • pink salt

    Forefront on gay marriage, amazing dry cured ham, and killer rye whiskey are all products of Iowa! Have to tip your hat to the fine people of that state.

  • Michael Ruhlman

    Thanks CN and Jo Anne for catching the error! (and thank you iowa while we’re at it.)

    • Chris

      Good liquor stores in decent sized cities, or for those of us in flyover country – Amazon sells Luxardo cherries.

    • Chris

      Where to find real maraschinos – Good liquor stores in decent sized cities, or for those of us in flyover country – Amazon sells Luxardo cherries.

  • Allen

    I believe the term getting “shit faced”, involved a face plant, while walking through a mine field of a dog shit infested yard. Just an assumption on my part

  • Jon Brunner

    Looks like I need to buy some rye and real maraschino cherries

  • Allen

    From previous post, I’ve found Ramps at Central Market in Seattle, they were grown in Mexico $15 lb. and I found them
    very nice in lightly scrambled eggs, I pickled a few too.

    A bit pricey for a pesto, I’ll hold out for my own garlic tops.
    Surprised there were not more suggested uses in the comments.

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  • Mom

    I liked your recipe!..wish I had had it in time for the Derby..just lacking the Mint not easy to find here..I think I’ll take my Mint in a Mojita
    Now how about a drink for the next two Big races? Preakness and Belmont or Pimlico..Bet on California Chrome ALL THE WAY!

  • Kellen Ferkey

    Templeton makes a great Manhattan, but then so does Bulleit. If you want to get into the aether, check out Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye. (http://www.drinkslowandlow.com/) High West’s ‘Son of BouRye’ is another new favorite, making a perfect blend of Bourbon and Rye Whiskies to make a truly memorable cocktail.

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