The Gin Basil Smash cocktail was created by Joerg Meyer, owner of the bar Le Lion in Hamburg, Germany in 2008. Meyer was inspired during a trip to New York the prior year when he tried Dale DeGroff’s Whiskey Smash at the SoHo cocktail bar Pegu Club. In the 1980s and 90s, DeGroff reintroduced the classic cocktail made with muddled lemon wedges, sugar, and mint to New York’s trendy bar scene with much success. Back home in Germany, Meyer experimented with adding basil to bourbon with disastrous results. But upon switching to gin, he struck a tasty combination.
His first version of the drink was called a Gin Pesto, however he renamed it Gin Basil Smash for a post on the Bitters Blog and in the summer of 2008, it began to catch on throughout Germany. The drink’s light green color and unique flavor of basil eventually began grabbing the attention of the rest of Europe and beyond and its popularity was rewarded by winning “Best New Cocktail” from the 2008 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards.
The original Gin Basil Smash recipe calls for two ounces gin, preferably Rutte Celery Gin, one ounce lemon juice, three-quarter ounce simple syrup, and basil leaves. In place of Rutte Celery gin, I’ll try two gins from our collection: Hendrick’s and Aviation. The Hendrick’s website offers the Gin Basil Smash recipe with their own brand, so it seems like a promising substitution. Aviation gin is a recent addition to our home bar, and we’re excited to see how it performs in a cocktail.
Hendrick’s, a small batch gin created in Scotland, is made with eleven botanicals, and infused with rose and cucumber. The aroma begins with juniper and the pine forest, followed by floral and citrus notes. On the palate are lime citrus, coriander, cucumber, and a licorice candy note. Black pepper with a bit of black tea bitterness lingers on the finish.
Aviation gin is made in the United States with botanicals including cardamom, coriander, French lavender, anise seed, sarsaparilla, juniper, and two kinds of orange peel. The aroma is juniper forward with earthy spice notes. Cardamom, licorice, and citrus flavors round out the palate. It finishes with floral notes and the bitterness of orange zest.
Gin Basil Smash Recipe
- 2 ounces gin
- 1 ounce lemon mixer (our homemade lemon juice and simple syrup all-purpose mixer)
- 10 Basil leaves (save a sprig for garnish)
- Muddle basil leaves in a shaker.
- Add gin and give it a swish.
- Add the lemon mixer and ice.
- Shake vigorously, and strain into a rocks glass with ice.
I had learned to muddle gently through trial and error on previous cocktails such as the Old-Fashioned. However, when I applied the same technique to the basil leaves, they provided little in the way of color and flavor. Muddling more firmly yielded a nice bright green color and more pronounced basil flavor.
Cocktail Tasting Notes
If you’re a fan of basil, this cocktail is for you. The basil is pronounced in aroma and flavor. In both the Hendrick’s and Aviation versions, crisp lemon and herbaceous basil flavors are supported by the gin’s botanical elements. The Aviation version is dry, crisp, and refreshing, with citrus flavors punching through. The Hendrick’s version is a bit sweeter, with floral notes, particularly on the finish. Overall, the Hendrick’s version has a little more depth and complexity, but both are very enjoyable. The Gin Basil Smash is a surprisingly simple cocktail that tastes like more than the sum of its parts.
Just as the Martini has made the change from strictly gin to either gin or vodka, so has the Basil Smash. The Basil Smash recipe on the Absolut Vodka website is basically the same with the substitution of vodka for gin. The vodka version is a great alternative for folks who don’t like gin; still fresh, citrusy, and herbal, but lacking the layers of flavor added by the botanicals in gin.
The basil for our Basil Smash drink lab comes from my deck garden. Growing herbs in pots that hang from the deck railing is the perfect for the lazy gardener. I can easily grow and harvest fresh herbs without toiling away in the dirt under the hot summer sun. Just fill pots with potting soil, plant seeds, water every day, and a month later, voila! Basil and parsley. The first season I grew herbs on the deck, a pesky squirrel ate half of my newly sprouted arugula while squashing the other half with his fat behind. Bugger! Afterward, my drinking buddy, Mike, installed chicken wire for protection.
I’m continuing the basil theme through dinner combining two recipes from my Boozy Lifestyle book, eggplant stacks and basil pesto sauce. Using the remainder of my basil harvest, I’m making pesto sauce to serve on thin spaghetti. Atop the pesto spaghetti is grilled eggplant stacked with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Eggplant stacks are one of my favorites to make when local produce is in season. Jersey tomatoes in July and August can’t be beat.
I hope you are enjoying your summer with delicious, fresh, local produce and invigorating cocktails. Cheers!