Learning new things. That is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Travis McGee said “Every day, no matter how you fight it, you learn a little more about yourself, and all most of it does is teach humility.” That sounds about right. Man, I wish I knew now all the things I knew when I was young. I have had plenty of opportunity to learn humility along the way, some of the lessons took, some didn’t. I am still working on that. It’s not so much the years, but the mileage, as they say. Keeping with our teachable moments theme this week we are going to do a drink tonight with a totally new to me, as yet unexplored, preparation and bar tool. We will see how things go as we stand and make the Kaieteur Swizzle.
Swizzles are sour style drinks that originated in the Caribbean, often made with rum. The name of this one is a combo of Kaieteur Falls in Guyana and how the drink is prepared. I learned about this recently myself, which is why I am experimenting with this drink. The way you make these is to mix them by spinning a swizzle stick. What? That won’t work. How are you supposed to mix the drink with a little plastic wand? Swizzle sticks are made of plastic and are meant to poke you in the nose when you take your first sip, before being discarded on a napkin that shares their logo. right? Wrong. Well, yes, of course, those are swizzle sticks, just not real swizzle sticks. Confused yet? Wait it gets better. Swizzle sticks come from casino bars, right? Nope. The real ones, the true “boi lele”, are harvested in Martinique from a Quararibea turbinata, more popularly known as, the swizzle stick tree. Yeah, that kind of blew my mind as well. So a true swizzle stick, is about 16 inches tall, smooth, with branches emanating in a circle from the base. The trick is to spin it between your palms quickly inside your glass to mix your drink. My understanding is that you have to raise the whole thing up and down while simultaneously spinning it in order to actually mix the drink and get the chilled glass effect we are looking for. So yeah, we are making this drink with a stick with 4-5 short branches on the end. Like, I said, it’s a learning experience.
Let’s get started. We are going to build this one in the glass, so find something tall like a Collins glass. I went with this beautiful hand-blown number from Ron Hinkle Glass in West Virginia. It was a gift from a cacher there who puts the ones with slight imperfections in caches as special treasures. Pop in 2 ounces of Demerara Rum, I went with El Dorado 5 Year, because it’s from Guyana; 1/2 an ounce of Maple syrup, I went with some leftover stuff from Cracker Barrel; 1/2 an ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice, 1/2 an ounce of Taylor’s Velvet Falernum and 2 dashes of Dr. Elmegirab’s Orinoco Aromatic Bitters. Fill the cup halfway or more with pebble ice and swizzle to your heart’s content. You can also use a barspoon here if you have not yet acquired a $20 polished stick from Martinique. Traditional lore holds that you should swizzle till a nice frost starts to form on the outside of the glass. When you feel well and truly swizzled, top off with ice, grate some fresh nutmeg on top and garnish with some freshly slapped mint. Laura made this sweet tiny homage to the swizzle stick bush with lime and mint, cause she’s cool like that. You may even want to pop a plastic swizzle stick in there, just to add to the confusion. Apparently, the traditional presentation is to wrap a cocktail napkin around the bottom half of the glass, but I didn’t have any fancy cocktail napkins and I also totally forgot about that until after I had made the pictures and enjoyed the drink.
Holy wow! This drink is kind of amazing. I didn’t have a lot of hope looking at the ingredients, but it comes together in such an interesting way. The maple syrup really steps to the front with that Demerara rum. Nice brightness from the falernum and lime juice. This drink is way more interesting than I gave it credit for. We made a second one with agave syrup and it was not as fun, that maple really works.
So there go. it is pretty good. I am not sure that it would not be just as good stirred with a spoon or flash blended or shaken, but we must do as custom dictates. I love getting new pieces of gear to experiment with so yes, I broke down and ordered a $20 dollar stick. Just a plain old cut off a tree, trimmed sanded and cured island stick. For the same money I could have bought a cool silver metal one, but I wanted to make sure you got the authentic experience, gentle reader. That said, it’s a cool piece of gear and makes a good story and a damned fine drink. Two side notes, I also learned that you can use a swizzle stick to de-gasify champagne, a service that was once performed in order to discourage indigestion or vapors in “more delicate patrons”. I had no clue that was even a thing and I am not sure my life is enriched by this knowledge, but it is what it is. Part the second, in order to justify paying shipping on my swizzle stick, I added some obscure bitters to my order and I dropped $3.49 on a real rubber bar mat, just like the pros use. I know this is silly, but I am enjoying that little mat way more than I should. Especially, when you consider that I build my drinks on the sideboard of my sink that is literally made to drain any liquids into the sink, rendering the bar mat useless. Still, when I set my tins and jigger down on the mat, it just feels right. It is satisfying in a way that the swizzle stick is totally not, some of you get me here. It’s crazy but it brings me a kind of peace and that is hard enough to find these days. So, I learned that too. This week is all about education and expanding our horizons. I hope you have enjoyed this little dive into a bit of tiki subculture and hearing how I learned to work my stick. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.