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To a Smashing July

Whole Foods Market is hosting a Cool Summer Mint Festival in-store July 8 `see All You Can Eat, this page, for details` that seems perfectly timed for this week’s cocktail manifesto: On the Superior Flavor and Snap of the Whiskey Smash.

The Whiskey Smash, as we are going to discuss it today, is essentially a bourbon Mojito — the Cuban drink made with rum, sugar, and mint, the overnight popularity of which drove local bartenders mad two summers back — but this pithy description belies its refreshing chemistry. It does hint at its Western Hemisphere heritage, however. Our favorite Smash is made not only with sugar, but with bourbon, the New World answer to whiskey, which in turn is made with corn, the founding grain of pre-Columbian mythology.

Cocktail purists may note that a pared-down version of the Smash appeared in bartender paterfamilias Jerry Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion, an 1862 mixology bible that set the standard for 20th-century tippling (it was republished by New Day last fall as The Bartender’s Guide). A simple thing, Thomas’s Smash contained only sugar, water, and whiskey, which concoction you can imagine would be about as refreshing as digging a latrine in San Antonio in July. Let’s forge ahead with the benefit of modernity.

Whiskey smash

Here, based on the close observation of a former bartender and a few unobtrusive questions, is the Eastern Standard’s version:

1/2-3/4 lemon, quartered
4-5 sprigs fresh mint
1 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. bourbon
Crushed ice
More fresh mint for garnishing

Muddle the first three ingredients in a glass or non-reactive shaker. Add bourbon, cover and shake. Strain over crushed ice in a generous rocks glass and garnish with fresh mint.

I recently enjoyed a Whiskey Smash at the Eastern Standard in Boston — a young restaurant and bar trying very hard (and succeeding, as long as you keep your back to the dining room) to replicate an old-New York feel — where the bartender muddled cut lemon and a handful of mint with simple syrup, added bourbon, shook, strained the glorious result over crushed ice, and garnished it with more mint. Yes, the Whiskey Smash is cousin to the Mint Julep, too, but it’s a little less precious, with a sassier name. And Mint Juleps, like pinstripe seersucker suits, have limited applications.

The citrus cuts the sweetness of the bourbon and syrup and leavens the liquor’s wood notes (bourbon is aged in charred white-oak barrels). Some Whiskey Smash recipes call for brandy, but you’ll get a much more sugary, less bracing drink as a result. The Eastern Standard used W.L. Weller, an even-keeled bourbon that’s not too sweet (skip Maker’s Mark for this drink) and not as hot as that striver Knob Hill. I’ll recommend my personal favorite, Ezra Brooks, which has deep wood notes and at 90 proof is rough-edged enough not to get lost in a fancy cocktail. Its relative economy also inspired my husband to begin penning a country song, “My baby likes bottom-shelf bourbon.” A Whiskey Smash or three into a summer afternoon, you’ll become a tunesmith, too.

- Elaine Wolff

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