I am making a deceleration..I have a Swizzle Sticks addiction (vintage in particular). I just love all the creative things that have been done on such a small piece of real estate. They are colourful, they are fun, they are artistic and they are so darn collectible! I want them all and I’m on a mission to do just that.
For today’s post I’m not going to go on about how I’m going to achieve total Swizzle Stick domination but instead we are going to check out their history (my coles notes version) and also view some examples of these lovely works of art.
The early days of the Swizzle Stick
According to my research, it looks like the Swizzle Stick made its appearance around the 1600’s in the West Indies. It’s purpose was to help enhance a Barbados-based cocktail “The Swizzle” that contained rum, sugar and ice.
Frederick Albion Ober’s 1920’s book ‘A Guide to the West Indies, Bermuda and Panama’ gives one of the first recorded insights into the origins of the stick itself (Source):
“The stem of a native plant with radiating twigs, or roots, which, being deprived of its outer bark, is revolved rapidly between the palms of the hands,” writes Ober, “and, through the combined action of the motion and a peculiar saponaceous quality of the cambium layer of the twigs, produces a delicious froth.”
Often the pronged branches of the allspice bush or aromatic quararibea turbinate (seen below) were used, which eventually earned the plant its nickname: the Swizzlestick Tree.
If you look at the my “collection” photo at the top of this post, you will see that one of the swizzle sticks looks like the quararibea turbinate branch. When I first received the stick as a gift I thought the prongs were for helping it stand up (silly Liz haha). Now I know that is not the true reason.
But where does the name “Swizzle” come from?
Tales of the Cocktail stated in a 2016 post that the word swizzle, according to the 1891 “Century Dictionary: An Encylopedic Lexicon of the English Language,” comes from a combination of the words swill and guzzle.
But they also stated that drink that was mentioned above called the “Swizzle” was named this because of the whisk-like motion of making it – “Swizzling”.
So it seems that the name of the stick truly reflects the original drinks origin as opposed the 1891 dictionary description. Do you agree?
Here comes the 1920’s!
The Swizzle sticks have found a new purpose in this decade beyond swizzling drinks, they are now being used by Queen Victoria and refined ladies to stir bubbles OUT of their Champagne. Why? Well ladies of Society don’t want any unwanted “gas like emissions” do they?
1950’s Champagne Swizzle Stick (1920’s looked similar)
NOT the proper way to drink your Champagne.
Marketing comes into play
When a great idea is found and seems to be rising in popularity, you can ALWAYS be sure that Marketing is not that far behind to capitalize on its success and this is exactly what happened after prohibition was over.
Meet Inventor Jay Sindler, who needed a way to remove the olive from his martini without using his fingers. So he sketched out an idea of a barbed wooden spear featuring a small paddle at the other end, which could be imprinted with the establishment’s name or logo (Source). A problem was solved and bars who needed to advertise after Prohibition was over had a new marketing tool.
1950’s & 1960’s
For the next few decades these cocktail stirrers are now common sight with the 50’s and 60’s being the top of its game and of course the kitsch factor is kicked up to 10.
The End of an Era
The 70’s though saw the downfall of the Swizzle sticks as wine took over as the cheap drink of choice and from that decade on, our favorite little drink decoration is left behind in the dust.
Today, Swizzle Sticks are still not back in popularity ($16 craft cocktails don’t see a need for a kitschy plastic stick in their glasses) but you can still see them in Tiki Bars that have risen in popularity over the last couple of years. AND for those who are serious collectors, there is an International Association of Swizzle Stick Collectors for you to join (now that is cool!).
That ends our little Swizzle Stick road trip for today so I hope you had as much fun as I did learning all about these cool pieces of cocktail history.
Question Time! Do you own a collection of Swizzle Sticks? And if you could create your OWN Swizzle Stick what would it look like? Please share in the comments below.
P.S. Make sure at your next Cocktail Party you add these to the bar!