“The swizzle must not be guzzled,” cautioned a writer for New Orleans’ Times-Picayune in 1928. “It must be sipped, one sip at the end of each sentence during a long and deliberate conversation.”
This is excellent advice. The swizzle cannot and should not be rushed. That applies to its construction as well as its consumption. Note that the swizzle is not a specific drink with an exacting recipe, but rather is a class of tipple—more defined by technique than ingredient. The cocktails first arose in the West Indies, where they were popularized by Americans fleeing Prohibition. They are typically made with a spirit (often rum), along with citrus, and sometimes mint or a liqueur, all of which is put in a glass with crushed ice. Then—and this is key—they are swizzled.
The traditional Caribbean swizzling method employs an actual stick, which is of particular provenance. On the island of Martinique the stick is called le bois lélé and is cut from the shrubby Quararibea turbinata plant, the narrow branches of which splay outward from a central stem like a propeller. To swizzle, one simply needs to insert the business end into a cocktail and rotate the long stemmy part between one’s palms, like an archvillain plotting world domination, until the glass takes on a thick frost.
Swizzles remained in vogue following Prohibition’s repeal, and cocktails such as Bermuda’s Rum Swizzle became pillars of the drink world. But then in the middle of the last century, the swizzle sticks themselves evolved into insubstantial plastic cocktail stirrers that compa-nies would top with kitsch or advertising—flamingos, logos for spirits brands, bar appellations. These sticks are still great for infusing an evening with swingy Rat Pack nostalgia but are generally unsuitable for the vigorous swizzling a swizzle requires. A barspoon makes a better substitute.
“I love the category,” says Stefan Huebner, the chief mixologist and co-owner of Dot Dot Dot, a speakeasy-style bar in Charlotte. His Queen City Swizzle evokes Charlotte’s nickname, as well as the Queen’s Park Swizzle, a drink once served by the tanker at a wildly popular hotel on Trinidad.
“It’s a classic with a great history,” Huebner adds. “I wanted a nice refreshing cocktail with mint, and I wanted to showcase a local spirit.” He lays the foundation of his version with Charlotte-made Dragon Moonshine Silver Rum, though any other full-flavored unaged rum will do. He then layers in levels of intricacy with bitters and Chartreuse, which has developed a cult following for its densely herbal taste (Carthusian monks in France have made the liqueur from more than a hundred plants since 1737). His creation also nods to the West Coast, where the San Francisco bartender Marcovaldo Dionysos first made Chartreuse Swizzles fashionable in the early 2000s. Variations on the theme have been cropping up nationwide ever since.
All of which makes for a cocktail that aims to “take people on a ride,” Huebner says. This particular ride not only delivers imbibers from the Old World to the New, and the West Coast to the South, but also offers a thoughtful segue from winter into spring—the deep and loamy herbal notes of the Chartreuse suggest the reawakening to come.
During the swizzle mania early in the last century, the Times-Picayune did sound one cautionary note: “Of course, one swizzle may bring on another, but that is a matter for the experimenter to decide for himself after he has sipped the first.”
We trust that you, the experimenter, will arrive at the proper and judicious outcome.