Swizzles can be made with rum, gin or whisky but as this drink has its roots in the Caribbean, I lean towards using rum and it is with rum you will most likely see it on a menu.
Swizzle sticks were originally wooden sticks or twigs with a stem and cut leaving a few prongs at the bottom. Rolling the stem in your hands would agitate the drink with the prongs into a foam. Traditionally cut from the quararibea turbinate tree (also known as the swizzlestick tree), the bark gave off a slight aromatic spice note to the drink. The name likely comes from “Switchels” – a kind of non-alcoholic drink whipped up to give a boost to slaves and farm workers. It is said the idea of the stick came with the African slave trade to the Caribbean.
Early alcoholic versions were often a weak concoction of rum and water. However, by the second half of the 19th century we hear of gin versions, including angostura bitters as well as ice.
The availability of ice in the mid 1800s led to an explosion of drinks using block, shaved and chipped ice adding a range of effects. In the case of the “swizzle” it enhanced the foam as well as giving a frosting condensation on the outside of the glass.
This is one of those cocktails that has taken off in recent years and in many places does not look much like the original. If you search the internet for the perfect recipe you will most likely come across a list of ingredients as long as your arm. However, I always try to keep my versions simple and home friendly. Anything that has more than four or five ingredients probably needs the hand of a trained expert.
45ml of Rum – try a few different ones as they all react differently to whatever fruit juice you use
60ml of fruit juice – 50/50 pineapple and orange is popular but lemon and lime also works well.
10ml of lemon or lime juice – I prefer lime in a cocktail but to each their own
15ml sugar syrup – many recipes recommend Bermuda falernum to add authenticity
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- Put all the ingredients in a tall glass with shaved ice and swizzle vigorously until a foam appears on the top. Alternatively, make larger quantities in a jug and serve as a punch. The addition of a little soda water will enhance the foam.
The rum swizzle appears in Hemingway’s Islands in The Stream. Published posthumously in 1970, Hemingway started it in 1950 and it is perhaps his most alcohol laden book with multiple references throughout describing all manner of drinks and methods.
The main character, Thomas Hudson and his children decide to play a practical joke on some yacht people in the Ponce de León. The group is drinking rum swizzles when Thomas and his friend Roger pretend to be drunk while apparently letting Andy, who is about 12 years old, drink gin.
Having searched the internet for the perfect swizzle stick I decided to go old school and make one myself using a twig from the garden. I tried a few options and ruined a few drinks before settling on a camellia whittled down to leave enough length to roll easily between my hands whilst having the “forks” sitting just above the bottom of a Tom Collins glass.