"The Pepper Smash is a cocktail very near and dear to me," Black tells us. "It's one of the first savory cocktails I created, and the recipe has transitioned over the years as I have grown as a mixologist."
The Pepper Smash started life as a blend of gin, red bell pepper and mint, created by Aviation gin owner Ryan Magarian. "After my first sip I became completely fascinated with the use of peppers in his drink," Black said.
He first tried mixing lemon, mint, sugar, water and whiskey. When he added red pepper, "It completely morphed the cocktail into a savory, complex libation," Black recalls. "At this point, I knew I was onto something, but there still was work to be done. I wanted to create an even richer savory aspect to the cocktail, so I eventually substituted the mint for basil to give the drink an underlining hint of black pepper. And the final ingredient that really perfected the Pepper Smash was added by mistake in the middle of a seriously intense shift at the Doheny in downtown L.A., when I lost track of my tickets and accidentally used honey instead of simple syrup in the drink. It completely rounded out the cocktail, giving it a subtle, sweet buttery finish."
A colleague behind the bar at Doheny created a variation on the drink by adding a Guinness reduction (made by cooking Guinness on high heat until it becomes a syrup), which he floated on top of the drink "when I had used Jameson Irish whiskey instead of bourbon in the cocktail," Black says.
He later named that drink The Smashed Irishman, and it has since been seen on multiple cocktail menus on the West Coast.
Black was happy to share his recipe for the basic Pepper Smash, which he advises readers to "enjoy as is or explore with your own additions."
2 ounces whiskey
4 lemon wedges
2-3 basil leaves
2 slices of red bell pepper
3/4 ounce honey syrup (3 parts honey to 1 part water)
1. Place the lemon wedges, basil, bell pepper slices and honey syrup into a mixing tin and muddle until all of the juice is smashed out of the lemons.
2. Add your favorite whiskey. "Right now, I am loving it with Original Moonshine clear corn whiskey." (Black is a brand rep for Original Moonshine.)
3. Throw in a few ice cubes, give it a little shake, dump the concoction into a double old-fashioned glass (a.k.a. a rocks glass).
4. Finish it off with a garnish of fresh basil leaves. "Always remember to spank your herb garnishes. This breaks open the cells in the herb and releases its aromatics as you sip your perfectly balanced savory Pepper Smash," Black says.