Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: Keeping Cool with Swizzles, Juleps, and More
Last night around 11 p.m., after the heat had nibbled at the 100-degree mark in Seattle and while my house was still in the toasty mid-80s (we're not much on air conditioning here in the Pacific Northwest), I decided that while the fan was doing the best job it could in keeping me from melting into a puddle on the couch, stronger action was needed. Fortunately I'd had the foresight to stock up on ice to take the edge off the heat wave we're experiencing, so I broke out the crusher and prepared a nuclear-gauge heat buster: a Queen's Park Swizzle.
I wrote about the drink last fall, to coincide with a story on ice I'd written for Imbibe magazine (and the New York Times recently threw some love in the swizzle's direction), but summer is the best time to appreciate the family of drinks that includes swizzles, juleps, smashes, and other relatives. The factor these drinks share is this: they're built around a foundation of crushed ice, which ideally should be packed into the glass to maximize the cooling effects and to prolong the drink's lifespan. During a heat wave, these drinks can maintain their temperature longer and keep a drink colder than a standard highball that simply uses cubes.
That swizzles and juleps are typically associated with warmer climates—and both predate the advent of air conditioning—is testament to their utility as summer coolers. Both also traditionally utilize fresh mint (a defining element in a julep and a common though not required ingredient in swizzles), which contributes an extra touch of cooling sensation, and a preparation technique meant to build frost on the outside of the glass or cup. In swizzles, which are typically rum-based and hail from the Caribbean, the ice is packed in the glass with the other ingredients and the mixture is traditionally blended with a lele twig—a kind of multi-pronged stick that is the original swizzle stick. The twig is rapidly rotated in the drink by spinning the twig between the palms of the hands, which both mixes the drink and drops its temperature rapidly to slow the rate of dilution. Swizzles, juleps and smashes also benefit from using slightly higher-proof spirits, so the drink maintains some degree of firepower and doesn't become bland and over-diluted as the ice gradually melts (and, unlike highballs and related drinks such as the mojito, swizzles and juleps typically have no club soda or other fizzy mixtures added, though there are some exceptions); rather, the drink's flavor deepens as it is leisurely sipped.
Ice is a big topic of conversation in the cocktail world (need proof? Look at this experiment), and as July segues into August, swizzles and juleps and other crushed-ice delivery mechanisms can be some of your best liquid friends. What are your favorite drinks to beat the heat?
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.