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.
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.
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
“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.”
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