When the whiskey sour and the mint julep mingle.

One of the best training-wheel cocktails for non-whiskey drinkers is the Whiskey Smash. Made of whiskey, muddled mint, muddled lemon wedges, and simple syrup, the Whiskey Smash is a smooth, refreshing sipper popular in the South, much like its cousin, the Mint Julep.

What defines a smash from a julep? Well, brace yourself for one of those mind-bending booze rules like all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon, or all tequilas are mezcal, but not all mezcals are tequilas.

A smash is a julep, but a julep is not always a smash. The difference between the two, primarily, is the muddled fruit. Okay, sure, there’s the julep’s distinctive crushed ice and that stellar silver cup—but recipe-wise, a julep doesn’t require muddled fruit, and a smash does.

One thing is crystal clear. The Whiskey Smash has been making imbibers happy for a very long time, some 200 years now. Most credit its invention to 19th century legendary barkeep Jerry Thomas. But that’s as muddled as the lemon at the bottom of your shaker when making a Whiskey Smash. He does get full credit for the first smash-adjacent print mention (specifically, it was a Julep) in his cocktail book, Bartender’s Guide, also known as Bon Vivant’s Companion in 1862. When the revised version came out in 1887, it included the Whiskey Smash.

By the next year, it appears the smash makes a permanent name for itself as a bona fide classic cocktail category. For example, Harry Johnson’s 1888 Bartender’s Manual includes four smash recipes, like the Old Style Whiskey Smash made with water, sugar, mint, whiskey, and muddled in-season fruits.

And the muddling is where the magic is. You see, the proportions of a Whiskey Smash are almost identical to Rick Dalton’s (the main character in the movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) go-to cocktail, the Whiskey Sour. But when the lemon is muddled, you get the bright notes of freshly expressed juice and get the potent essential oils from the lemon peel.

And that’s what makes the Whiskey Smash, well, a smash hit. It’s simple to make, easy to riff on by swapping out the base spirit, type of fruit, or herbs, and it’s downright delicious.

Next time you’re making a drink for someone that says, “Whiskey? Not for me!” try mixing up the classic Whiskey Smash recipe below. Or, try a variation, such as muddled grapefruit or kumquats. They’ll thank you later.

Whiskey Smash

Whiskey Smash

Whiskey Smash

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Bourbon
  • 3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
  • 3 Lemon Wedges
  • 4 Mint Leaves
  • Mint Sprig (for garnish)

Preparation: Muddle lemon and mint in shaker. Add the remaining ingredients; add ice, shake, and double strain into a rock’s glass over ice. Slap a mint sprig on the back of your hand and use it as a garnish.