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Four cocktail recipes that really shake things up

This Kentucky Derby Day, consider the smash instead of the mint julep.

Whiskey smash.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

Whiskey smash.

With the Kentucky Derby nearly upon us, you may be thinking of mint juleps, the stalwart Southern drink made of bourbon, mint, sugar or simple syrup, and ice. This year, though, consider the smash — which is like the julep’s footloose, freewheeling cousin.

In modern smashes, an herb — often mint, but you can use any leafy variety — is muddled with sugar or simple syrup and shaken with ice. Add citrus or other fruit in season, plus spirits, and lighten the mix, if you like, with a little seltzer. There really aren’t many rules, so be creative. Here are a couple of ideas to get you going. Chin-chin!

WHISKEY SMASH

Makes 2 cocktails

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Many smash recipes specify simple syrup instead of sugar, but I think sugar is easier. As for the lemon, choose a juicy one with thin skin; Meyer lemons are great if you have them.

½ medium lemon

12 large mint leaves, torn, plus 2 small sprigs for garnish

1½ tablespoons sugar

Ice, preferably cracked or small cubes

5 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey

4 drops bitters

3 ounces seltzer, cold, optional

Cut a thin slice from the lemon half, halve the slice crosswise, and set aside the 2 half-moons to use as garnish. Cut the remainder of the lemon half into thin pieces.

In a cocktail shaker (preferably Boston-style), muddle the lemon pieces, mint leaves, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid in the shaker is syrupy and very fragrant. Fill the shaker halfway with ice and add the whiskey and bitters. Cover and shake to blend and chill, at least 15 seconds. Fill 2 Old Fashioned glasses halfway with ice, and, pouring through the strainer, divide the mixture between the glasses. Top with seltzer, if using, and stir gently, garnish with a lemon slice and a mint sprig, and serve at once.

BRANDY SMASH

Makes 2 cocktails

Continue reading it below

This brandy smash is flavored lightly with orange and mint, and I add a little Grand Marnier for good measure.

1 small orange (you will only use about a quarter)

6 large mint leaves, torn

½ tablespoon sugar

Ice, preferably cracked or small cubes

4 ounces brandy

1 ounce Grand Marnier

3 ounces seltzer, cold

2 maraschino cherries

Cut a thin slice from the orange, halve the slice crosswise, and set aside the 2 half-moons to use as garnish. Cut ¼ of the remaining orange into thin pieces.

In a cocktail shaker (preferably Boston-style), muddle the orange pieces, mint, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid in the shaker is syrupy and very fragrant. Fill the shaker halfway with ice and add the brandy and Grand Marnier. Cover and shake to blend and chill, at least 15 seconds. Fill 2 Old Fashioned glasses halfway with ice, and, pouring through the strainer, divide the mixture between the glasses. Top with seltzer and stir gently, garnish with an orange slice and a cherry, and serve at once.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

TIP Because smashes can be pulpy, they don’t always strain easily. Use a Boston-style shaker (pictured, at left) — comprising two tumblers, usually one metal and the other glass, with a separate strainer. The wire coil strainer allows liquid to pass through more easily than the small holes built into cobbler-style shakers.

STRAWBERRY-BASIL SMASH

Makes 2 cocktails

I’m not a vodka drinker, so when this smash is made with vodka, I think it definitely needs the seltzer. If you like vodka, you might feel differently. When it’s made with rum, I like this smash both ways, lightened with seltzer and not. Stick with fresh berries for this smash — it’s not as good with frozen.

6 medium strawberries, hulled and sliced,

2 beautiful slices reserved for garnish

10 medium basil leaves, torn

¼ medium lime, cut into thin pieces

1½ tablespoons sugar

Ice, preferably cracked or small cubes

4 ounces amber rum or vodka

3 ounces seltzer, cold, optional

In a cocktail shaker (preferably Boston-style), muddle the strawberries, basil, lime, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid in the shaker is syrupy and very fragrant. Fill the shaker halfway with ice and add the rum or vodka. Cover and shake to blend and chill, at least 15 seconds. Fill 2 Old Fashioned glasses halfway with ice, and, pouring through the strainer, divide the mixture between the glasses. Top with seltzer, if using, and stir gently, garnish with a strawberry slice, and serve at once.

GINGER-CHILI SMASH

Makes 2 cocktails

When making this with rum, I like to add the seltzer; I leave it out when using tequila.

½ medium lime

2½ tablespoons chopped fresh ginger

½ large serrano chili, with seeds, roughly chopped

10 large mint leaves, torn

1½ tablespoons sugar

Ice, preferably cracked or small cubes

4 ounces amber rum or reposado tequila

3 ounces seltzer, cold, optional

Cut a thin slice from the lime half, halve the slice crosswise, and set aside the 2 half-moons to use as garnish. Cut the remainder of the lime half into thin pieces.

In a cocktail shaker (preferably Boston-style), muddle the lime pieces, ginger, chili, mint, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid in the shaker is syrupy and very fragrant. Fill the shaker halfway with ice and add the rum or tequila. Cover and shake to blend and chill, at least 15 seconds. Fill 2 Old Fashioned glasses halfway with ice, and, pouring through the strainer, divide the mixture between the glasses. Top with seltzer, if using, and stir gently, garnish with a lime slice, and serve at once.

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