So what is a Swizzle? And what is a swizzle stick? The literary references to Swizzles seem to begin around the mid-18th century with the written definition growing in the early parts of the 20th century. Swizzles began as a Caribbean style of mixing drinks perhaps stemming in Barbados — mostly cold although there are certainly hot swizzles out there. Unlike say the Martini which is chilled in a mixing glass by gently stirring cubed ice with a spoon and straining into a cocktail glass, most cold Swizzles are built in the glass, topped with crushed ice, and agitated with a rapidly spinning natural swizzle stick (or facsimile) to mix and chill… The Swizzle has had a resurgence starting around 2008 or 2009 as various cocktail supply stores have procured Caribbean sources for these Bois Lélé mixing instruments… Plenty of recipes for these drinks reside in mid-century Trader Vic books and other Tiki-leaning tomes; moreover, modern drinks books have begun to embrace the style as well including the Death & Co. Cocktail Book where their house Swizzle formula was exposed to me a few years before via the Company Swizzle.
Sounds great! Swizzles are one of those drinks we don’t make very often, but they can be quite tasty and delightfully cooling on a warm day. It’s unseasonably warm in Seattle right now (which of course means we’re roasting a turkey for dinner, because why not?) so this is just what the doctor ordered. We decided to proceed by making an existing recipe and then concocting one of our own.
We started by checking out Death & Co.s book for some ideas. Lots of tasty sounding swizzles there, and we noticed a theme of using lime juice and a fair amount of bitters in almost all of them, and mint, sherry, and absinthe in quite a few more. The gin ones seemed particularly appealing, and we chose the Park Life because it uses Old Tom gin, which we love and don’t have enough recipes for.
Park Life Swizzle (Thomas Waugh)
- 1 oz Ransom Old Tom Gin
- 1 oz Lustau Amontillado sherry
- 1/2 oz falernum
- 3/4 oz lime juice
- 1/2 oz ginger syrup
- 6 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1 mint sprig
Dry shake all ingredients except bitters, then dump into a pilsner glass filled with crushed ice. Top with the bitters. Garnish with the mint sprig, and serve with a straw.
- Nose: Bitters (clove, spice) and mint, hint of lime and ginger
- Palate: Sweet, creamy vanilla and baking spices to start. Mid-palate is gin botanicals and woody, pithy, cedar-y barrel notes. End of the mid-palate is lime and spice, moving into a finish of warm, clear ginger and oxidized wine. As you drink it down, the bitters become much more pronounced.
Next up, we decided to make our own. We thought we’d pick up the absinthe, lime juice, and strong bitters from the traditional template, but what would that go with? The absinthe and bitters combination made us think of a Robert Burns, so we grabbed the scotch. What to do for a sweetener though? Well, the Rusty Nail is also a classic, and the Drambuie both plays up the scotch and sweetens things, so we added some of that as well. Finally, we tasted through the bitters to see what played well. The Boker’s was good, but not quite strong enough and left things a little flat. We then tried the Mister Bitters Honeyed Apricot and Smoked Hickory bitters, which added some bittersweet smoke to the mix that underscored the other flavors nicely. We still wanted the spice from the Boker’s, though, so we added that to top off the drink.
Burnt Nail Swizzle
- 1 1/2 oz blended scotch
- 1 oz Drambuie
- 3/4 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz absinthe
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
- 6 droppers of Honeyed Apricot and Smoked Hickory bitters
- 4 dashes of Boker’s
Dry shake everything except the Boker’s. Pour into a pilsner glass filled with crushed ice. Top with the Boker’s. Garnish with a lime wedge. Serve with a straw.
- Nose: Anise, smoke, lime peel, celery, little bit of malt.
- Palate: Intro is lime, anise, celery and a hint of hickory charcoal. Mid-palate is malt, smoke, black licorice, and a hint of fruit like dried cherry or cranberry. Finish is mildly palate coating, with smoke, apricot, honey and spicy ginger bread notes. Finish is bitter, almost burnt, chocolate.
Kind of an angular drink, where the flavors don’t meld smoothly but instead create an interesting juxtaposition that keeps you going back for another sip.
Thank you Fred for a great theme. This has shown us that we don’t make swizzles enough. 🙂 We seem to have this mental block around crushed ice drinks, too many nasty “frozen margaritas” perhaps. However that’s just not fair; properly made swizzles and other crushed ice drinks are super tasty and deserve a spot in the rotation. Look for more in the future.