In the early 2000s, patrons of New York's cocktail dens seemed to have something against whiskey. So bartenders got them to drink it by mixing up the Smash. But the drink was really just a resurrection of an old classic: recipes for the Smash go back as far as Jerry Thomas' 1862 version. This drink could be called the “Great Unifier”—it’s sweet and smooth enough for the casual drinker, but has enough booze and bite to satisfy stauncher tastes.
We went through seven different variations before settling on our ideal Smash. The first try was good; the second was better. So much better, in fact, that returning to the first was like returning to spoiled milk. The third attempt was a disaster. By the fourth and fifth, we knew we had it right.
The base is made up of mint, lemon, bitters and simple syrup (muddling them all together releases flavorful citrus and mint oils into the syrup). While some make this drink with bourbon, we found that the aggressiveness of rye plays perfectly with the sweetness and acidity of the other ingredients. We like to pour the shaken drink over fresh crushed ice (taking a cue from the Mint Julep, a close cousin). This technique makes the drink supremely cold and refreshing, but it also comes at the risk of dilution. The convenient solution is to guzzle.
Because the Overserved Society is all about good drinks with good company in the here-and-now, we decided to serve this beverage to 30 friends on a rooftop in West Town. People found their way in via a hidden back door, and we got a starter drink in their hands while we beat ice to smithereens in homemade canvas Lewis bags. As the sun set, with the lights of Chicago's skyline flickering on during the magic hour, we raised our glasses and hailed summer.
The Overserved Society Whiskey Smash
2 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 dash bitters
5 mint leaves
2 lemon pieces (take a quarter of a lemon and cut it in half)
Bruise the mint leaves in the bottom of the shaker with the simple syrup and bitters. (If you muddle the mint too hard, it gets stringy and bitter, so “bruise” it instead. Shaking it with ice will do the rest.) Toss in the lemon pieces and muddle on top of that mixture. Then add the whiskey and ice and shake until the tin is too cold to hold. Double strain into a glass and garnish with a sprig of mint.
Check out the full collection of recipes from The Overserved Society.