Exactly What Cocktails Need Mixing With A Swizzle Stick?

Today, we're examining a little known mixing tool called a swizzle stick. You thought a long spoon or a fancy kind of shaker was all it took to get some boozy ingredients properly mixed together? Think again. The swizzle stick was originally part of Caribbean cocktail culture, and the first examples were quite literally sticks. That's right, they were branches taken from an evergreen tree native to southern Caribbean islands, scientifically known as the Quararibea turbinata. Each branch of the tree has a bristle on the end that makes it an ideal tool for stirring. Throughout the islands these wooden stick tools were known as le bois lélé; they allowed for a popular food preparation technique called swizzling to emerge, and the practice inspired a popular drink called a swizzle.

So what is swizzling, exactly? It's just a specific style of stirring using this tool. Basically, you spin a swizzle stick between your palms while simultaneously moving it up and down in the mixture. It's a frothing technique that you can use for any drink that requires seamlessly incorporating sweeteners and thicker ingredients with the rest of the recipe. It's also a way to create water dilution from ice. Some bartenders still use the traditional bois lélé for swizzles, but most now use a plastic, glass, or steel version for sanitary purposes. There is no one absolute material used for making a swizzle stick.

How to make a perfectly frosted swizzle cocktail

One of the earliest uses of the technique was for a drink called a switchel, made with water, spices, and vinegar, then thickened with sweeteners like honey or molasses. Considering the texture of those sweeteners will help you understand how a swizzle stick is used to evenly disperse a syrupy ingredient throughout the rest of a drink. In contemporary cocktail culture, a swizzle is generally a sour drink made with crushed ice and rum (a nod to its Caribbean origins), but any liquor will do.

Swizzling works particularly well with crushed ice, as the webbed bottom of the stick slips below the layer of ice where it isn't in danger of knocking cubes out of the glass during the stirring process. Start by filling a typical Collins or other stable mixing glass halfway up with ice, then build your cocktail in the glass. Place the swizzle stick in the glass so the bottom of the stick is below the ice, then begin swizzling by spinning the shaft with both hands while moving it up and down. While you're swizzling, the glass will start to frost over, a clear signal that you've swizzled the appropriate amount. Add more crushed ice to top off the cocktail, and if you feel ready, try the technique on a chartreuse swizzle.