Like many iconic cocktails, the exact origins of the Swizzle are subject to competing histories in the countries who adopted it as their own. What we can say for sure is that Swizzles are a class of cocktails named for how they are made, rather than what they contain.
While that’s most commonly rum, lime juice, falernum (an almond, clove, and ginger sweetener), and occasionally mint or pineapple, depending on whom you ask, the important part is the base of spirit, citrus, sweetener, and lots of crushed ice. What you do with it all at that point is even more crucial. Instead of shaking or stirring as you would another cocktail, a Swizzle employs what’s called a swizzle stick, the branch of a type of tree native to the Caribbean islands, which is inserted into the glass and rubbed between the hands to simulate a hand-held blender.
Some reference books date Swizzles to the 1700s, but the drinks continued to grow in popularity through the turn of the 20th century, and went through a somewhat odious period in the intervening decades, when all manner of despoiling ingredients — creme de menth for one — were added.
A Swizzle, explains Mike Wyatt, bar manager of Ward 8 in the North End, is “made from a branch with kind of a forked end, so when you put it in the glass and spin, the cocktail becomes super cold.” He’s one bartender who is enamored of the methodical process and bright tropical taste of Swizzles. He’s serving a variation on the theme that’s become popular in recent years called the Chartreuse Swizzle (pictured).
Riffing off of a recipe created by San Francisco bartender Marcovaldo Dionysos a few years back, which calls for green Chartreuse, Velvet Falernum, pineapple, and lime juice, Wyatt’s version is even boozier. He slightly ups the pour of Chartreuse, and adds in a half-ounce of Smith & Cross Jamaica Navy Strength rum. (“Navy Strength” refers to the practice of the British Navy transporting rum that was 57 percent alcohol by volume, a proof at which a potential spill would not prevent nearby gun powder on a ship from being able to ignite.)
“I love Smith & Cross rum, so I changed the proportions slightly,” says Wyatt. “It adds a ton of body to the drink, and has a super funky tropical vegetal flavor. You can pick it out even if it there’s just a half-ounce in the drink. You still get the citrus and spice notes from the pineapple and the falernum,” and an intense herbal quality of the Chartreuse. “It’s strong, but it’s balanced by the other ingredients in there.”
Luke O’Neil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.