What Makes a Great Swizzle?

The El Dorado Swizzle Competition is back this year with the chance to win a trip to Guyana. Last year El Dorado International Brand Ambassador Stefanie Holt wrote a piece about the history of the Swizzle (which you can read here), this time round she, with the help of last year’s winner Alex Proudfoot, looks at what makes a good Swizzle into a great Swizzle.

I’ve had the very lucky job of tasting a huge amount of Swizzles over the last few years, and have come to wondering what makes a ‘great’ one, rather than a ‘good’ or  ‘ok’ one, especially as the 2013 UK Swizzle Competition has just been launched and I’m about to receive a few hundred entries.

Everyone’s definition of ‘great’ versus ‘ok’ will be different of course, depending on the person and the drinking occasion, but hopefully by the end of this, I’ll have drilled down what makes some Swizzles better/more drinkable/more likely to win a cocktail comp. So let’s get started.

A great example of how the Swizzle should be so cold it ice’s the serving vessel (also how the stick can be used as garnish)

One of the main issues I’ve noticed with some of the Swizzles I’ve tasted is the dilution. This is a drink that’s vigorously mixed with crushed ice until you get a frost on the glass, so if you use the same quantities of ingredients as you do in a drink that’s built on cubes or shaken quickly, then the resulting Swizzle can taste watery.

The question is, how do you avoid making a watery drink when you can’t adjust the fact that it’s got to be swizzled with crushed ice for a good amount of time?

The right type of liquor

I think the best place to start is with everyone’s favourite Trader; Vic himself says that “a generous amount of liquor is important” and when you think about how the swizzle is mixed you can see why. He was referring to making a good frost on the outside of the glass, but of course the more liquor you add into the drink, the more you’ll be able to taste it post-swizzle.

You can use more of a light-tasting liquor, however, using a stronger-tasting or higher-ABV alcohol can equally stand up to the dilution effect. This is demonstrated in drinks like the Green Swizzle (which used some Absinthe) or the Queens Park Swizzle (which used a heavy-bodied Demerara rum as its base spirit). More on these drinks in the History of Swizzles piece from last year.

Other Swizzles that have used a similar technique are the Martinique Swizzle which uses a pastis alongside the presumably agricole (and therefore perfumed and likely to be 50-55%) rhum, and the Bermuda Swizzle which uses a heavy measure of Goslings for that full-flavour.

Viscosity at work

You can, however, also use other ingredients to help the Swizzle taste & feel less watery. Ingredients with a bit more viscosity work well as they can handle being watered down a lot, as well as ingredients with big flavours.

Looking at the drinks that made it through to the final of last year’s comp, we can see that this technique was used successfully for most of them – we had viscous ingredients such as Actimel, pear puree & coconut cream, and strongly-flavoured ingredients such as mezcal, whisky soaked pineapple, tonka syrup & port.

The ever creative Tom Higham even used egg white and coined the term (and as far as I know technique) of ‘dry swizzling’ the drink to create a thick texture before adding the ice to do a final swizzle. This worked so well he came 2ndoverall.

Tom’s Dry Swizzle, also note the speed of his swizzling makes all around him appear blurred!

The winning drink, created by Alex Proudfoot from Raouls in Oxford, made use of a few of these techniques. He used 60ml of El Dorado 8yo (a good amount of liquor that I’m sure Vic would approve of) along with a pineapple shrub (thick & strong flavoured) and Innis & Gunn Rum Finish beer (strong flavoured) which made his drink very flavoursome and complex.

Alex has this to say about his thought process on creating his drink.

Trigger Switch

When putting my swizzle together for this competition I had a good hard think about ‘What a Swizzle actually is?’ Whilst reading up on what makes a
Swizzle a Swizzle two things stuck firmly in my mind;

1 – The definition of a Swizzle, taken from the Dictionary of vulgar tongue, is ‘…a mixture of spruce beer, rum, and sugar…’
2 – The drink from which the swizzle is said have hailed, the Switchel, was made from molasses, vinegar, and water.

With this food for thought I started thinking about flavours that would not only work well together, but stand up to the heavy dilution of being swizzled.

Cordials stand up to dilution incredibly well, and once upon a time cordials would have been cut with vinegar. This is how the idea came about for my shrub. Pineapple and rum is a no brainier and this would be my ‘Switchel’ element.

Knowing I wanted to use the El Dorado 8 year old I knew I had to go big and rich with the remainder of my flavours. With my sweet (with a hint of sour) element covered I needed to look for something that would accent the rum in a way that meant I didn’t have to use any other liquors or liqueurs, and this led me on to Innis & Gunn rum finish.

I had it on good authority that the rum barrels used in its production came from the El Dorado distillery and this would provide my ‘spruce beer’ element. Red Grapefruit was a very obvious choice for me as it is on the sweeter side of sour, plus Angostura Bitters for its traditional South American roots (full specs on Alex’s winning drink below – Ed).

Using big rich flavours but in quantities that would lend themselves to being opened up with some dilution, but also doff their hats to the history that surround a drink that is not only native to Guyana, but native to the hole Caribbean was the basis of my drink.

Get Swizzling

Creating a great Swizzle is a challenge but like all challenging things in life when you pull it off the results can be spectacular. In this case, the spectacular could be a trip to Guyana later in the year.

I hope that this article helps give you some ideas and guidance to making a great drink for the El Dorado Swizzle Competition. Please note this is by no means a definitive list of ‘must dos’ to create the perfect Swizzle but suggestions to get you moving in the right direction.

Alex’s winning Trigger Switch in 2012.

Get creative, get imaginative and most importantly get Swizzling, once you have nailed the drink enter the El Dorado Swizzle Competition right here.

(For more information on the El Dorado Distillery check out the free launch issue of the new Barlife Magazine for iPads on the App Store – Ed)

Alex Proudfoot – Raoul’s, Oxford

Trigger Switch – 2012 winner El Dorado Swizzle Competition

  • 60ml El Dorado 8 year old
  • 25ml red grapefruit juice
  • 25ml pineapple shrub
  • 25ml Innis and Gunn – Rum Cask Finish
  • Dash of Angostura Bitters

Swizzle and serve with mint garnish.