Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Brandy Smash Cocktail

Brandy Smash Cocktail with orange and mint garnish

The Mint Julep’s little brother

Long ago, in a century far away, the Brandy Smash was America’s most popular mixed drink. During the 1850s and 60s, drinkers flocked to this mint-infused charmer. But then (as so often happens with cocktails), it fell from favor.

Well, it’s about time for a revival, don’t you think?

A Brandy Smash is basically a shorter, less elaborate version of a Mint Julep. It’s easier to make than a julep, and (usually) contains less booze. And because it’s a smaller drink, it’s perfect for times when you want a refreshing tipple, but don’t have all afternoon to enjoy a long, slow sipper.

You don’t even need to use brandy in this drink if you don’t want to. Just substitute whiskey or gin—or almost any spirit that catches your fancy.

And the flavor? Smashing.


Brandy Smash Cocktail with mint garnish

Recipe: The Brandy Smash Cocktail

In mid-19th century America, the Brandy Smash eclipsed even the Sherry Cobbler in popularity.

Back then, the word “cocktail” referred to a specific type of drink—one that was always made with bitters, and usually drunk in the morning (yes, really). A smash was a different class of drink entirely. Nowadays, of course, we use “cocktail” to mean just about any mixed drink.

So what was special about mixing a “smash”? It involved shaking mint with ice, which “smashes” the leaves. Early recipes for this drink probably required muddling mint and sugar together (the way we make a Mint Julep). But then the newfangled cocktail shaker came along (it was the instrument of choice for mixing the Sherry Cobbler). After that, it didn’t take bartenders long to realize they could skip muddling and just shake mint with ice and brandy. The friction from shaking tears mint leaves, smashing them up. That’s probably how the drink acquired its name.

For more history about the Brandy Smash, I recommend the book Imbibe! by cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich. My recipe is adapted from his.

This recipe takes about 5 minutes to make, and serves one.

Ingredients
  • 1½ to 2 ounces brandy or cognac (2 ounces is traditional; may substitute another spirit of your choice—see Notes)
  • ~1 teaspoon homemade simple syrup (to taste; may substitute store-bought syrup or finely granulated sugar) 
  • 7 or so mint leaves (or just throw a sprig into the shaker; spearmint is ideal)
  • mint sprig and/or orange wedge or slice for garnish
Procedure
  1. Add the brandy and simple syrup to a shaker half-filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Then add the mint and shake gently (you don’t want to bruise the mint—otherwise it can turn bitter) until the drink is well chilled (probably another 10 seconds or so).
  2. Strain the contents of the shaker into a rocks glass filled with ice cubes (or crushed ice—see Notes). Garnish with a mint sprig and/or an orange wedge or slice. Straws are optional for this drink, but I like them.
Brandy Smash Cocktail with mint garnish

Notes
  • Wondrich says this drink has also been called a Smasher or a Smash-Up.
  • You can use either brandy or cognac for this drink. Cognac is nothing more than brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. (Brandy is what happens when you distill wine.) I tend to prefer the flavor profiles of cognac, so that’s what I often buy.
  • You don’t want to use expensive brandy or cognac for this cocktail—something in the range of $15 or a bit less should work fine. I usually use a VSOP like St. Remy or Raynal. If in doubt, ask the person at the liquor store—they’re usually very helpful.
  • Some people like to add a dash or two of Bénédictine liqueur to this drink (and I can attest that it’s a good addition). If you’d like to try this variation, just add the Bénédictine to the cocktail shaker in Step 1.
  • It’s probably more authentic to drink this cocktail over crushed ice rather than cubes (see Step 2). But I happen to prefer cubes.
  • Although brandy was the spirit of choice for mid-19th century imbibers of this drink, whiskey was a fairly common substitute.
  • Some drinkers substituted gin, though that was used less frequently. The gin used back then wouldn’t have been the London dry variety we know today. Instead, it would have been Holland (Jenever) gin, which originally was made by distilling malt wine (Jenever has a faint malt flavor).
  • Another variation on this recipe substitutes roposado tequila. I haven’t tried this version, but it sounds delish.
  • Drinkers traditionally garnished this cocktail with a mint sprig and/or an orange wedge or slice. But many also liked to festoon it with berries or other fresh fruit (as we did with the Sherry Cobbler).
  • Most 19th century drinkers wouldn’t have mixed fruit into the drink itself. But today, that’s a common variation. For an example, check out this Blackberry Smash recipe by Barb at Creative Culinary.
Brandy Smash Cocktail with orange and mint garnish

Smash Hit

“Mmmm,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, tasting her drink. “Refresh-mint.”

“Smashing color, too,” I said, holding up my glass.

“True enlighten-mint,” said Mrs K R, holding hers toward the window.

“Mint condition,” I said, taking a sip.

“These puns are becoming an embarrass-mint,” said Mrs K R. “Maybe we should declare a truce?”

“That might be a disappoint-mint to our readers,” I said.

“Well, my glass is empty,” said Mrs K R. “Maybe you should get off your puns and mix us another round.”

“Sure thing,” I said. “But two is probably enough. We don’t want to get smashed.”

You may also enjoy reading about:
Simple Syrup
Minut Julep
Sherry Cobbler Cocktail
Gin Rickey
Planter's Punch
Mojito Cocktail
Cocktail Basics
Or check out the index for more

114 comments:

  1. Good Morning John . what a delightful smashing drink , pass me one please ;- D . Hubby aunt (78) like E&J Brandy , I told her I was going to make her one , she said only if it comes with a man ;-D , gonna make her one and make me two . Thanks so much for sharing :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nee, this definitely is a smashing drink. ;-) And I'd be delighted to pass you one! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  2. This looks like something I could dive right into. Refreshing and delicious! You always have great drinks to temp is with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi VIcki, sorry about that temptation thing. ;-) This one is worth trying -- really nice. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  3. Dear John,
    Wow! You learn something every day! What a beautifully smashing drink! I had no idea about mixing the ice with the mint, and that is why they call it Brandy Smash. Very interesting info on this drink and all of your notes. I really am not a drinker, but this one may be the one that I try...Very refreshing with the mint...Plus I see that Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is enjoying her smashing drink....Thanks for sharing your expertise. Have a wonderful rest of the week.
    Dottie :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Dottie, this really is a fun drink, and has such great flavor. Smashing, you might say. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  4. Beautifully written and beautifully poured! This cocktail looks particularly appealing, especially in mid-July. Thanks for sharing this one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Dan, this is such a fun drink! Fun history, better flavor. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  5. This does look beautiful, John. It wouldn't take many for me and I would be smashed :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pat, two of these will do it for me. Well, maybe three, but then it's lampshade time! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  6. You and Mrs. KR's conversations are pure entertain-mint. GREG

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Greg,I'm in agree-mint. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  7. Hi John,
    Love the banter between you and the Mrs:) I'm also pretty fond of this drink too. The lady next door stopped over last night to ask me if I wanted any mint. (I don't grow it because it takes over the entire garden) Thank goodness I said yes! The only Brandy I have on hand is Paul Masson Amber but I really, really want to try this drink tonight so I'm going to go with that.

    Thank you so much for sharing, John...It's been a lot less humid today and actually going to get "chilly" tonight. I think this drink will be just perfect to "warm" up the evening:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Louise, Paul Masson (or really any brandy with a name -- as opposed to big black letters spelling out Brandy on a white label -- will be fine). We've had coolish weather the last couple of days (even down into the 50s one night!) but it'll be hot again soon enough. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
    2. Hi John,
      It was delicious and oh so refreshing. Thank YOU!

      Delete
    3. Hi Louise, glad you liked it! Now you may have to plant some mint. ;-)

      Delete
  8. Love all the "mint" puns - so hilarious. Great looking drink!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ashley, we probably should have avoided those puns -- some are kinda lame -- but we gave in to temptation. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  9. I love everything about this... The explanation, the gorgeous glass, and of course, the great, great pics. Cheers to you, John!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Denise, isn't this a pretty drink? Awfully tasty, too. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  10. I am not a huge brandy fan but I think I would like this thanks to all the refreshing mint in it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Natalie, the mint really gives this a nice little taste -- really good. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  11. HI John, great drink and history. Always look forward to so much "pun", between you and the Mrs. sorry could not help myself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Cheri, it's so hard of us to resist pun! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  12. This IS easier to make than a mint julep and the smaller size is nice. I love mint juleps but they are huge and after drinking just one, I'm sending Bobby out to get burgers. :) I'm not a big cognac or brandy fan, so thanks for saying that bourbon whiskey could be substituted. I have a Costco size bottle of Maker's Mark in the cabinet and a huge pot of mint. :) I know what I'm trying this weekend! Thanks John!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi MJ, just think of it as a mini julep -- because that's really what it is. ;-) Bourbon really is great in this drink, and Maker's Mark would be wonderful. Enjoy! And thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  13. I'll just have the simple syrup please! LOL!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi GiGi, with a garnish of mint, yes? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  14. I adore a great classic cocktail and a witty blogger!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sue, classic cocktails are the best, aren't they? Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  15. I love the story that goes behind the drink and the stunning shot of it. I had to stare at it for a few seconds to adore. Nice. I don't drink alchohol but this is tempting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Holly, I used to rarely drink cocktails, but got so interested in their stories that I started tasting them. Glad I did -- they're delish! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  16. Beautiful and very manly drink! Love the glass too - very classic - the old-fashioned steak houses would serve alcohol in those!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Julia, those old-fashioned steak houses are something, aren't they? When I worked in NYC I'd sometimes have business dinners at some of them, and they were always fun. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  17. I think this would be terrific with gin...as G&T's are such a summery drink and a minty gin drink would hit the spot, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Liz, gin and mint really work well together, don't they. I haven't made this drink with a London gin, but I should (I love gin!). Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  18. My best friend has a beautiful mint plant that keeps on growing and growing. I'm sending her this recipe right away (as well as the recommendation to add you to her feedly!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Monet, mint can become almost a weed -- a good weed! It really is invasive, though. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  19. Awesome recipe! definitely could kick back with a glass or two right about now! thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Thalia, this really is such a nice drink. If you like mint, that is. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  20. Ok I know that the whole brandy smash thing screams 'manly' but I need to try this drink because it looks so DELICIOUS! :P

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Uru, it really is delicious! Definitely worth a try. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  21. I'm really old but I don't recall this drink. :) I think I'd like this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Maureen, this drink predates even both of us. By quite a lot. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  22. Hi John,

    This cocktail is interesting with a combination of warmness and refreshing taste... I wonder if this is for winter or summer or ... everyday :p

    Zoe

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Zoe, I drink it mainly in the summer, because that's when I have fresh mint growing, but it's really an everyday drink. Brandy is nice in cold weather, so this would definitely appeal in the winter, too. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  23. A beautiful cocktail! It's color and composition is fabulous.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rosa, isn't it pretty? I love how cocktails look! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  24. Another punny post with breath taking photography. Cheers, Rocquie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rocquie, can't have too many puns in life! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  25. Just don't smash that glass. I've always liked it! And though this looks smashing, I would have to try it with something else as I am not a cognac fan. However, i just discovered bourbon and am quite happy with it. It seems happy with me, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Abbe, this is quite a good drink with bourbon -- really a mini Mint Julep! And that glass is over 100 years old, so I definitely don't want to smash that! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  26. Sounds tasty! Love the glass you used.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pam, it really is tasty. And that's a fun glass, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  27. This is the perfect drink for me! Love brandy and mint and how easy it is to make!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Laura, brandy has such nice flavor, doesn't it? And mint really works well with it. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  28. Simple and yet delicious looking cocktail...the good thing is that I have lots of mint in my backyard...
    Hope you are having a great week John :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Juliana, this really is a great use for mint. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  29. You know I love a good smash; I have a tendency to add fruit but this one is simplicity at it's finest. Great shots too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Barb, I know you love a good smash! And the blackberry one you did last week looks great. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  30. You have outdone yourself this time. The color is mesmerizing. It's like pure sunshine in a glass. How can I resist? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carolyn, I have to say, I love color in cocktails! And no, you shouldn't resist. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  31. Such a pretty drink and as a matter of fact, I have brandy and mint and I was looking for an excuse to do a little morning drinking. Thanks for this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Karen, have fun tomorrow morning! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  32. You never disappoint as here we are on a Friday afternoon and a you have a new deliciously smashingly fun cocktail on the menu for tonight. I like the idea of smashing instead of muddling as your drink is so clear and looks so refreshing. Thanks for the fun post and have a super weekend. Take Care, BAM

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Bam, enjoy your Friday! (Saturday, now, I guess.) The smashing really is a lot easier than the muddling. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  33. I love that there's always history with your cocktail recipes, John. This is a new one to me and definitely one to try. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nancy, it's the history behind the drinks that I find the most interesting. Not that drinking them isn't fun, too! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  34. Nice pun exchanges once again, courtesy of Mr and Mrs KR! Lol! Thanks for the recipe, John! Will try this pretty soon ;).

    Julie
    Gourmet Getaways

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Julie, one of our weaknesses is we do like puns. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  35. Such a vibrant drink, great way to use Brandy too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Caroline, isn't this a great looking drink? And brandy can be so nice in cocktails! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  36. I also prefer cognac and can't wait to try this cocktail!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kristy, this really is a delightful drink. Hope you enjoy it! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  37. I would be one adding a bit of Benedictine. I love that silky smooth booze. I also love the glass you featured the drink in. All your cocktails look good to me. Just getting into cocktails. Was consumed by wine and some after dinner liquors. Expanding my horizons now. And you are helping me------sort of like a 12 step program to get into alcohol. Lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carol, we drink more wine than we do cocktails, but love to sample many different cocktails (hard to tell, huh?). Have fun experimenting! And thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  38. Looks graet and as usual great pictures

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Amira, it's really a super nice drink! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  39. Mrs Riff is right, the colour is smashing. Looks pretty darn good, I would prefer crushed ice instead of cubes. None the less add this to the must drink list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Liz, crushed ice is quite nice in this drink, and I'd be happy to have it that way, too. This is such a fun drink -- worth trying sometime. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  40. this is a real smashing good cocktail....such enchanting flavors too...thanks, we tried out that delicious white bean and tuna salad you posted...substituted tuna with quinoa as suggested and it turned out superb,thanks so much for sharing :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kumar, glad you enjoyed the salad! This is a fun drink, too -- pretty, and loads of good flavor. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  41. I didn't know the mint julep had a little brother! I loved learning about the origin of the smash. Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to try one now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lisa, you don't see smashes that much these days, although it's a dandy drink. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  42. Beautiful presentation. This is one my hubby would love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Dawn, this is a great drink -- I hope your hubby enjoys it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  43. I knew I'd love it the mo-mint I saw it. What a great achieve-mint!

    (These puns are getting out of hand. I may need to go into treat-mint.)

    ReplyDelete
  44. Replies
    1. Hi Kristi, mint is great in so many things, isn't it? It's wonderful in drinks! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  45. Wow John, it has smashing color and light! Such a gorgeous photo of the cocktail. I didn't know cocktail has different meaning back then. It's always fun to learn the history and how words (or anything) evolve throughout the time. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nami, isn't this pretty? Awfully tasty, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  46. I usually just cook with liquor, but I have brandy and mint, I think I must try this.

    Madonna
    MakeMineLemon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Madonna, this really is a nice drink -- really lovely flavor, IMO. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  47. I'm loving the moodiness of the dark background, the lighting of the golden liquor in the crystal is gorgeous...and the bright green embellish-mint is lovely too (sorry, couldn't resist).
    I bet that glass has some good weight to it, it's lovely.
    Eva http://kitcheninspirations.wordpress.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Eva, those dark backgrounds are fun, aren't they? And I agree the embellish-mint is lovely! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  48. You never fail to amaze me with your cocktail photos, look how pretty that is

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Raymund, thanks for your kind words, and for taking time to comment.

      Delete
  49. Replies
    1. Hi Pamela, isn't this a nice drink? Very tasty. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  50. great cocktail suggestion! we have some brandy at home and really gotta try this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sarah, this is definitely worth a try! Lovely flavor. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  51. Easier to make than a mint juliep and contains brandy? Count me in!!! Love this recipe, and my hubby would love it too! Cheers, Take care, Terra

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Terra, this is sooo easy and sooo tasty! Enjoy. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  52. This looks like something my husband would love. Thanks for sharing, John!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Peachy, it's a great drink! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  53. Simply Smashing! And a gorgeous photo to boot. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pamela, it is smashing, isn't it? ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  54. First, I really like your glass! Second, this drink sounds pretty perfect to me! I only started drinking brandy last Christmas (my brother requested a real fruit cake, so I had a partial bottle from that). Now I love it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Amy, since you like brandy, you'll love this drink! Really tasty. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  55. I seriously need more cocktails in my cooking repertoire . . pinned and looks so good!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Alice, cocktails are so much fun! I love their flavor, but their history even more. Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  56. I would like to try it once with brandy and once with cognac. I wonder what it would taste like with honey bee. John your cocktail is tempting right now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Helene, sorry about that temptation thing. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

      Delete