I simply couldn’t let the summer slip by without featuring my favorite summer drink, the Gin Basil Smash, but this time with a twist. I mentioned this drink last year, but for our Drink Of The Week, it’s different; it’s better—it’s RED!
The Gin Red Basil Smash is a drink from Le Lion – Bar de Paris, in Hamburg, Germany. Jörg Meyer has featured both the red and green version at his bar, but I find that many people don’t even realize basil comes in a red variety. Inspired by the Whiskey Smashes that he enjoyed at the Pegu Club in New York, Mr. Meyer brought the classic smash technique back home with him to Germany where they tried it with gin. Adding basil almost as a joke, and later, writing about the cocktail, word got around. Soon, the drink was being served at bars all over Germany to their credit!
I have yet to meet someone who didn’t absolutely love the Gin Basil Smash. It’s that good. In fact, it’s the kind of drink that can inspire a vodka lover to crave gin cocktails. The magic seems to be the result of some basic “gateway” steps. First, the idea of basil is intriguing and after seeing the classic smash preparation technique, someone who might not normally be interested in mixology will taste it and experience a revelation that can start them on a journey of cocktail exploration. Or, maybe not, and they just think, “Mmm, that’s pretty good.”
Gin Red Basil Smash
One bunch of fresh, red basil, save one leaf for garnish
1/2 of a lemon
2/3 ounce of simple syrup (sweeten to taste)
3 ounces of gin
Stuff a bunch of basil into a shaker followed by a half of a lemon cut into four pieces. Add the simple syrup and muddle the lemon and the basil, smashing the ingredients and squeezing all of the juice from the the lemon. Taste the mixture off the back of your hand to ensure the proper balance of sweet to sour and adjust as necessary. Add the gin and lots of ice. Shake vigorously until very cold. Double-strain into a rocks glass filled with ice, squeezing every bit of liquid through a fine mesh strainer with bar spoon. Give the glass a stir and add more ice if necessary. Garnish with a basil leaf.
This is basically a gin basil sour, but the smash style is a classic preparation. Instead of simply squeezing lemon juice, the entire lemon is used. Muddling extracts both the juice and the essential oils from the rind, intensifying the flavor. Like any sour, its success relies on the balance of sweet and sour ingredients. A recipe that specifies whole fruit (or fractions thereof) can leave the balance of flavors open to chance, since one never really knows how much juice a lemon will contain. That’s why it’s important to taste the mixture and add more juice or sugar as needed.
The importance of balance aside, it’s impossible to use too much basil in this drink. At Le Lion, Jörg stuffs a fistful into his mixing glass. A dozen leaves and stems is about right, even though it seems like a lot when it’s going into the glass. If you muddle thoroughly and shake hard enough, you will be rewarded with a deeply colored cocktail. Don’t let the summer go by without trying this drink. As far as I am concerned, it’s the Drink Of The Summer, at least until the basil is gone!