The Story Behind The Gin Basil Smash
A riff on the beloved Whiskey Smash, the Gin Basil Smash (a.k.a. the Gin Pesto) combines the herbaceous qualities of gin and muddled basil to provide bursts of summer flowers and fresh Caprese salad. Lemon juice and simple syrup join the party, imparting body, brightness, and refreshing acidity. Joerg Meyer, owner of the speakeasy Le Lion in Hamburg, Germany, first concocted the drink one night in 2008. A few days later, he took to his famous cocktail blog, “The Bitters Blog,” to share the recipe with the world.
Meyer became enamored with Dale DeGroff’s version of the Whiskey Smash — bourbon, simple syrup, lemon juice, and muddled mint — which he tried at NYC’s Pegu Club in 2007. When Meyer returned to Germany, he was thumbing through a recipe booklet by French gin brand G’Vine and became fixated on a drink with a basil garnish. That evening, while having his nightly pre-shift espresso at the Café Paris, Meyer borrowed a bunch of basil from one of the café’s chefs. He went off to Le Lion and began experimenting, trying it first with the DeGroff formula. The bourbon base wasn’t quite working, so he swapped it out with gin and struck his eureka moment. According to Robert Simonson’s “Modern Classic Cocktails,” Meyer sells 300 to 500 Gin Basil Smashes at Le Lion every week.
A bartender allegedly once called the drink “Meyer’s Curse” due to the arduous muddling that it entails. While the original recipe only calls for one sprig of basil for muddling, Meyer encourages more, writing “better too much than too little” in his original blog post. A generous bunch will only make the drink’s color more vibrant and flavor more pronounced. As for the gin of choice, Meyer recommends “citrus-accentuated” expressions like Tanqueray No. 10 or Bombay Sapphire, since juniper-heavy gins tend to mask the flavor of the basil. If you’re looking for a potential food pairing, Meyer suggests “serv[ing] this to your guests with buffalo mozzarella.”