Food & Drink

Natural cocktail flavors abound with the use of a muddler

Smashes are a category of cocktails that requires the use of a muddler to expell the oils and juices from fresh fruit, berries and herbs. The whiskey smash is a favorite in the Southern U.S.
Smashes are a category of cocktails that requires the use of a muddler to expell the oils and juices from fresh fruit, berries and herbs. The whiskey smash is a favorite in the Southern U.S.

Do you own a muddler? If not, go out right now and buy one. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Ok. Let’s get started.

Having a muddler in your cocktail arsenal is the key to crafting a large variety of cocktails, both classic and otherwise. The muddler is basically a small, blunt tool mostly made from wood, though there are plastic and metal versions. Kind of like a tiny baseball bat. It is used for expelling the oils and juices from fresh fruit or herbs. Those flavors then seep into your cocktail and provide what we all want from a drink: refreshment.

The most familiar muddled cocktails include mojitos, caipirinhas and juleps, which use fresh mint to its fullest degree, expelling precious mint oil that just seems perfect in an outdoor setting with full sun.

The Southern U.S. gets credit for the julep, but Kentucky bourbon lovers were just riffing on muddled fruit cocktails created in South America much earlier. In fact, the idea of combining fruit and distilled spirits was exported from India as well in the form of punch by the British, then subsequently brought to our side of the pond.

Another muddled mint-laden concoction is the whiskey smash, invented by 19th century barman Harry Johnson. Though his original recipe included only mint, sugar and whiskey (technically a julep), the modern version adds lemon wedges, which expels both the juice and the oil for a sort of instant cordial. This rounds out the cocktail to the point that even non-whiskey drinkers could enjoy it.

Perhaps the most alluring characteristic of the smash category is its adaptability to numerous fruits, herbs, berries and spirits. Try raspberries, lime and vodka, or tequila, agave syrup, sage and lemon. Gin goes well with tarragon or rosemary, and whiskey likes the bright touch of peaches or apricots. The possibilities are almost endless and should prove to be quite fun — both in crafting the drink and, of course, drinking it.

Kevin Hopper slings cocktails and muddles frequently at Capitol Bar on State Street.

Whiskey Smash

2 ounces Old Forester bourbon

4 lemon wedges

4 mint leaves

3⁄4 ounces simple syrup

In a cocktail shaker, drop in the lemon wedges and muddle briefly, pressing out the juice and the oil. Add the mint, simple syrup and bourbon. Fill the shaker with ice and shake for 20 seconds. Double strain* the cocktail into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice, or one large ice block. Slap a mint sprig on the back of your hand to release the aroma and add as a garnish. Enjoy!

*A double strain requires pouring contents of a shaker through a regular cocktail strainer into a second, fine-mesh strainer held over the glass. This removes the small fragments of fruit and tiny ice shards.

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