Swizzle sticks have been around for a long time now. Back in the day, these small sticks were introduced to stir drinks. According to history, the original swizzle sticks originated and were introduced in the 18th century at a rum plantation in the West Indies where they were made using a plant called Quararibea turbinate.
Over the years, these sticks have not only caused enough stir in drinks but also globally as well. Today, you have swizzle sticks made from different types of materials serving different purposes. Even though these fascinating little things are usually found in bars and restaurants nowadays but their history is as interesting as it can get. Let’s begin.
History of Swizzle Sticks
As mentioned earlier, the swizzle stick history dates back to around the 1600s in the West Indies. At the time, it was introduced to help enhance a Barbados-based cocktail called “The Swizzle” containing sugar, rum, and ice.
Frederick Albion Ober had once described the early swizzle sticks in his book as “the stem of a native plant with radiating roots or twigs, deprived of its outer bark and rapidly revolved between the palm of the hands. The combination of motion and cambium layer of the twigs produced a delicious froth”.
Furthermore, the pronged branches of the quararibea turbinate were used more often, which eventually earned it its nickname, the Swizzlestick tree. Swizzling was originally a food preparation technique that involved using a utensil between the palms and lifted and submerged in the mixture.
Apart from using the swizzle sticks for alcoholic drinks, it was also used for non-alcoholic drinks such as Switchel, which was made using vinegar and water and sweetened with molasses or honey. Moving on, the swizzle sticks made their way to Buckingham place in the 1920s, where Queen Victoria and the ladies of the court would use them to decrease the champagne carbonation.
Even though the prohibition eras around the world killed this technique but then came an American inventor who introduced plastic stirrers that were also called swizzle sticks.
What is a Swizzle?
Essentially, Swizzles are sour drinks that use crushed ice and the most unique mixing technique known as swizzling. Since the origin of swizzle sticks lead to the Caribbean, most swizzles feature rum but other liquors can be used as well. It’s not the booze but the method or technique that gives the drinks their name.
Edward Randolph, an international alcohol historian at the dawn of the 20th century decided to dive deep into the history and swizzle stick origin. He managed to track the origin to St.Kitts where it comprised of six parts water to one part rum along with aromatic flavoring.
Since the amount of water was limited at the island at the time, the drink was quite expensive and not everyone could afford it. The earliest accounts state that swizzle sticks were seen and recorded in Trinidad, Barbados, and Martinique as early as 1870. Ice was also becoming popular on some islands, therefore, they would serve the drinks with ice as well.
How to Use a Swizzle Stick?
Grab a serving glass and fill it halfway with crushed dry or cubed ice. Although Sling or Collins glass is mostly used for swizzle drinks but there are specific-use Swizzle cups available too that are meant for a dramatic presentation. Create your cocktail in the glass and then submerge the swizzle stick into the ice.
With the stick positioned between the palm of your hands, spin it back and forth as if you are starting a fire. Once the drink starts frothing, add more ice to fill the glass and swizzle again. At this point, the glass will begin to froth over and the drink is ready to be served.
How to Make a Swizzle Stick?
Even though swizzle sticks are more popular today than ever but carry an expensive price tag too. If you are making a drink at home, you wouldn’t want to purchase a new swizzle stick each time. Therefore, we would suggest trying making some at home using a pine tree that is used to make some of the best swizzle sticks out there.
To make a swizzle stick, you need a paper towel and put on some gloves as pine tree wood has a bit of oil that can make things a bit messy. Next, you are going to need a sharp scissor or a pruning tool, a knife, scotch tape, and a bar spoon.
Then, find a pine tree and using the pruning tool or scissors to cut some branches off. The size of your swizzle stick will depend on what you intend to use it for. If you intend to use bigger glasses, then the swizzle stick needs to be longer and if the glass happens to be smaller, the sticks are going to be comparatively shorter.
Now that you have the pine tree branch cut off, inspect it for the sub-branches that can potentially make some good swizzle sticks. Make sure that the sub-branches you choose are straight and not deformed. Once that is done, clear and remove one side of the stick, which will serve as a handle.
At the same time, shorten the branches of the other end to make a swizzle shape, which will be submerged in the drinks. Then, using a knife, you need to remove the tree bark. Make sure that you do not wait too long to remove the bark as the oil can dry and make the removing process harder. Wrap the bark using scotch tape and let it sit for around a week.
The best thing about making swizzle sticks on your own is that you can customize them according to your needs and preferences. And since quararibea turbinate is not available in most countries, you can opt for a pine tree or any other alternative that serves the purpose well.
Those who belong to the swizzle stick era know that the hype was real. Although the popularity seems to be fading away but some people collect them even today. Infact, there is an International Association of Swizzle Stick Collectors that brings together collectors of swizzle sticks around the world.
The original swizzle sticks were made using the Caribbean tree but what we have today is neither authentic nor original. Therefore, only time can tell if get to see the rebirth of swizzle sticks but until then, you should try making some on your own.