Champagne Smash

by on September 06, 2010

In the world of drinks, a smash is usually a drink that contains a spirit, mint, sugar and sometimes lemon or lime. The Mint Julep and Mojito are technically smashes. From this basic recipe you can make a wide variety of drinks that encompass a corner of the cocktail world. The key component is obviously mint, but the name eventually evolved to represent another aspect of drinks, like getting smashed. Obviously mint doesn’t play a role.

Beyond the cocktail, there is a soda fountain drink called the Champagne Smash - which oddly doesn’t contain any champagne, but does contain cognac, sherry and white wine. Yes, many soda fountain drinks from the 1800s did contain alcohol in varying quantities and they also based the recipes for drinks on their hard-nosed kin. So a Champagne Smash actually contains mint, kind of.

Pharmacists, or chemists as they were known at the time, loved to work with extracts and tinctures. Partially because they were shelf-stable and partially because they could create really unique flavours. For the soda fountain version of the Champagne Smash the recipe called for mint syrup, which was made from the essential oil of peppermint.

Now I can here a lot of purists booing and hissing, but there is a reason why essential oils are important. Shelf-stability was key in the 1800s because refrigeration was rare and mint was seasonal in many parts of America. The other factor was that the essential oil was a pure flavour and lacked the bitter and astringent compounds found in fresh, muddled mint. Some may say fresh muddled mint is a more complex flavour, others will say essential oils offer a more focussed flavour. Neither is right or wrong.

The soda fountain version of the Champagne Smash makes for a really unique soda flavour. It’s not non-alcoholic, but it’s still fairly light.

The first step is to make Champagne Syrup which is basically a flavoured simple syrup. The interesting thing is that the syrup actually does have a champagnesque aroma. Fix the Pumps has a couple of original recipes for champagne syrup, and they do come out a little light flavourwise. I’ve made a couple of modifications for the modern palate.

Champagne Syrup

Reisling Wine   250ml     1 cup
Cognac VS        30 ml       1 oz
Sherry                15 ml        ½ oz
Sugar                 325 g        1¼ cups  

Instructions: Combine the wine and sugar and dissolve by shaking. Do not heat. When the sugar is dissolved add the remaining ingredients.

In the 1800s, brandy was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia as a medicinal ingredient and it was specifically 50% ABV. It’s fairly hard to find that type of brandy today, but I used Meukow 90 which is at 45% ABV. For Sherry I used Kingsgate from Kittling Ridge (i.e. same company that makes Forty Creek Canadian whisky) but that old classic Harvey’s Bristol Cream will work just fine. For wine I used a Canadian Riesling from Angel’s Gate winery in the Niagara region. The original specifications called for a Rhenish wine from Germany, a dry Riesling being the most appropriate.

The “smash” part of the recipe calls for Sweet Mint Syrup, which is made from Peppermint Water. Again, the recipe for peppermint water can be found in the US Pharmacopoeia and is 1 ml (¼ tsp) peppermint essential oil diluted in 250 ml (1 cup) of water. To this 1 cup of sugar is added to make the Mint Syrup. The great thing about these old druggists is that they documented things very thoroughly.

The recipe found in Fix the Pumps is a bit light so this is the recipe that I came up with.

Champagne Smash

1 oz Champagne Syrup
½ oz Sweet Mint Syrup
1 barspoon Acid Phosphate
Fill with soda water

Instructions: Take a 12 oz glass and add ice and then add a splash of soda water. Next add the syrups and Acid Phosphate then top with soda water. Garnish with mint.

Adding a small amount of soda water to the glass first will help mix the syrups and prevent them from pooling on the bottom. If you don’t have Acid Phosphate, you can order some, or use tartaric acid which can be found at most homebrew stores. Tartaric acid isn’t a direct substitute for Acid Phosphate, but it is the acid most commonly found in grapes, so it will work in this drink.

The result is a light, refreshing drink. For my tastes I just use the Peppermint Water, not the Mint Syrup, which decreases the sweetness, or you could just add more acid to balance the sweetness. If you want to give it a little bit more kick, just add some more Cognac and Sherry.

This is a pretty good soda fountain drink and was very popular in the 1800s. The basic formula allows you a lot of room to tweak and with a little work this could turn out to be a great cocktail.

For a “real” Champagne Smash, just muddle some mint and sugar in a glass and top with chilled Champagne. That is a pretty good drink also.

Now for the book plug (get used to this) Fix the Pumps is available on Amazon for $12.78.

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