Monday, July 28, 2014

Mixology Monday, July 2014: The Smash

Ooga chaka!
Ooga chaka!
Ooga ooga ooga chaka!
Iii-iiii-iii'm mixin' on Monday..

So who here's in a party mood tonight? I hope you are because we're in the last hour of this month's edition of the best cocktail party on the web, Mixology Monday. This time around we're celebrating the Smash, that particular bracing cocktail formula that, well, I'll let the vivacious eponymous-blogging Stacy Markow, our hostess for the month, take it away:
I’m proud to announce that July’s theme is all about the Smash, those ice-laden, refreshing concoctions designed to celebrate my favorite things about life: stiff drinks and warm weather.
It’s no surprise that in 1862 Jerry Thomas was the first to declare that “the Smash is simply a julep on a small plan.” The drink originally gets its name from the way mint was smashed up in the shaking process.
Fast forward twenty-five or so years later and barman Harry Johnson addresses the Smash as a separate cocktail from the julep entirely and expands the components to include “fruits in season.”
What little was originally written about the Smash can lead most to believe it wasn’t a terribly popular beverage, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to David Wondrich, the author of Imbibe!
“From it’s first appearance in the mid 1840′s until after the Civil War, the Smash was just about the most popular thing going. In the 1850′s, at the height of the Smash’s popularity, all the “pert young men, ” the Broadway dandies, San Francisco swells, and junior New Orleans grandissimes, seemed to spend the warm months of the year with a Smash glued to one hand and a “segar” to the other. In fact, the Smash rather became an icon of dissipation”
Johnson’s smashes resemble many modern interpretations found on cocktail menus today. With that said, the basic elements of the drink have remained the same over the years: they always include a spirit base, lots of ice, fresh herbs (the most popular being mint), sugar, and seasonal fruit.
Let’s get ultra creative, smash things, and then drown them in alcohol and ice. Allow your creativity take flight and concoct sweet and/or savory combos to remember using any fruit or herbs you can get your hands on.
When active, follow this link to see what everyone smashed together!

So at first I was noodling, maybe going a particular culinary flavor profile direction, make the drink all fancy, but that petered out before it really got started. Instead, it hit me that I had a recipe idea that I've been saving since even before Feu de Vie was incepted. Oh, I had been planing on starting up the blog since perhaps autumn 2011 and was slowly coming up with ideas for posts, but coming up with the blog's name took forever (and most services won't let you even start without the name in place).

This recipe was born out of my torrid love affair with cachaca that summer, the kind of magic that was made in a simple Caipirinha, and my own (wry) observations on the cocktail blog/tweetsphere and their own torrid love affair with rye whiskey (not a lot's changed, I know).

But, as I got into the swing of things, the plot bunnies of recipe ideas took off and this particular recipe got shelved until perhaps a more seasonally appropriate time during the summer. Then I ran out of an ingredient and couldn't find it again. So the recipe got shelved right next to the Ark of the Covenant, Jimmy Hoffa, and that book I'll be writing til I die in the burbling volcanic Doom Caverns of Developing Ideas.

But, no more! Here, finally, was the perfect time to bring it out into the light! Except it wasn't quite a Smash. It had spirit, sugar, citrus..but it lacked an herb.

Oh, hey, peppermint you say? ...that could work.

Who says brown spirits are for the cold months? In the spirit of the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, I give you..

The Gussied-Up Rye-pirinha
3 oz rye whiskey
1/2 tablespoon demerara sugar
1/4 lemon, cut into muddling pieces
6-8 blueberries
1 sprig peppermint, for muddling
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 sprig peppermint, for garnish

As in a Caipirinha, muddle the blueberries, lemon and Angostura in your serving glass (rocks/double old-fashioned) with the demerara sugar; the sugar crystals will provide great friction for muddling in general and for abrading the lemon peel to help extract its oils.

Add in the mint sprig for muddling, pressing gently on the stem where most of the plant's oils are kept while otherwise going easy on the leaves.

Add in the rye and medium-size serving ice. Seal a shaker tin over top of the glass, invert, and give a few good shakes to thoroughly mix, chill, and start the ice dilution.

Invert again so the mixed drink sits in the serving glass and remove the shaker. Garnish with another sprig of peppermint.


The spirit greets you on the nose with faint sugar and berry lingering under the garnish's icy menthol. Further nosing reveals an orange/lemon note. Tasting, spice tickles across your tongue from the rye, mint and bitters. As the drink dilutes, lemon's astringency steps up while not completely overpowering a sugary berry note. A bit earthy and moody for a Smash, a cocktail structure that generally implies brightness and a lift from even dark spirits.

Make sure to use a good punchy rye - the always-potent peppermint needs a worthy match (and, I tend to think: spearmint with bourbon and peppermint with rye). For this Gussied-Up version, I used Dad's Hat Vermouth Barrel-Aged Rye, which threw me for a wallop the first time I tried it. It was off the charts in menthol and spice that I'm sure it picked up in the barrel-aging process and a certain "red" quasi-berry attribute in color and taste as well -- beyond their basic aged expression profile, which was also notable on the palate.
The Rye-pirinha (original) circa early 2012:
omit the peppermint and garnish with

Also, demerara, demerara, demerara. It may seem counter-intuitive when you consider how white sugar perks up the blueberry, lemon and peppermint, but the rye (and Ango) loves how the smoky brown sugar brings everything together with depth. White sugar's brightness just wouldn't be the thing here, and in fact, lack of demerara is what made me push off this recipe for years until I finally found it again.

Finally, special thanks to the folks at Herrcastle Farms in Holtwood, PA, who have a stand at the Lancaster County Farmer's Market - one of my fave ingredient hot spots. I was able to request a bunch of peppermint this past Friday afternoon (just as they were staging for the next's day's shipment, natch) for the next day - no mean feat since peppermint tends to be infrequently purchased and the market is only open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. My blueberries for the recipe also came from them.

Big thanks to Stacy for an ideal theme for the season and to Fred for the cat-wrangling - I can only imagine the mischief and mayhem they're getting up to with a theme like this.