This Is The Key Difference Between A Smash And A Julep

The mint julep, a mix of bourbon, simple syrup, and mint, poured over cracked ice and garnished with fresh mint leaves, has been the signature cocktail of the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century, according to Although the mint julep is an "American Innovation" that was first popularized in the Carolinas and Virginia, its origins trace back to the Middle Ages, when it was common to quaff mixtures of spirits with herbs and sugar for the purpose of promoting health and vitality, according to the Kentucky Derby Museum

It was only when the cocktail found its way to Kentucky that bourbon became the spirit of choice for mint juleps. Kentucky is not only the birthplace of bourbon (via KyBourbon), but bourbon is to Kentuckians what creamy white clam chowder is to New Englanders: a non-negotiable staple. And just as New Englanders steadfastly maintain that tomatoes have no place whatsoever in clam chowder (via New England Historical Society), Kentuckians regard the use of any spirit other than bourbon in a mint julep with an uncomfortable mixture of suspicion and disdain (via Kentucky Derby Museum). That being said, Kentuckians may feel the same way when it comes to making the cocktail known as a "smash," despite that the smash originated as a brandy-based drink and, like a julep, can technically be made with any spirit (via Imbibe Magazine).

So then what truly differentiates a smash and a julep? Read on for the one key difference.

A smash is a julep, but with one key difference

Just like all dogs are animals but not all animals are dogs, all smashes are juleps, but not all juleps are smashes. A smash is always a julep in that it's made with a spirit, a sweetener, and an herb. However, a smash contains one more key ingredient that makes it literally impossible for all juleps to be smashes. That ingredient is citrus, and most often, lemon. According to the website of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the smash at came about in the mid-1900s as a riff on the julep through the addition of lemon to the basic three-ingredient (plus ice) julep formula. 

In fact, the whiskey smash has been likened to a s-mashup between a mint julep and a whiskey sour. Some fans of the whiskey sour might disagree, however, given that a smash is not meant to be "rich" so much as "refreshing," and therefore does not call for whipped egg whites, which true whiskey sour traditionalists consider the key to a true whiskey sour (via Vine Pair). That being said, the rules of logic would appear to dictate that all whiskey sours are smashes, but not all smashes are whiskey sours. In any event, Kentucky Derby season is here, so please drink responsibly.