Jeff Hazell and Tonia Guffey both work at Dram, the tidy little cocktail temple in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where expertise exceeds square footage and bespoke preparation is a favorite pastime. But proximity doesn't breed imitation in bartending, or so we learned on a recent tasting, where Hazell and Guffey seemed equally eager to do serious liquid PR for the Swizzle cocktail—with very different results.
"I feel the Swizzle gets a negative reputation," says Hazell, who bristles at the application of terms like "girly drink" when the cocktail comes up. "Because of its magenta color and playful garnish, it seems like it won't be ‘strong' like an Old Fashioned. Wrong!" he says.
"It's a category that's close to all of our hearts," echoes Guffey. "We've had a different Swizzle on the menu since we opened." Even with ambassadors like Guffey and Hazell and a lengthy history, the Swizzle is still relatively misunderstood.
Oversimplified might be a better way of putting it. A cocktail predecessor with sun-and-rum-soaked island lineage, Swizzles are built in a tall glass with lots of crushed ice and mixed by with a "swizzle"—i.e. the double-action motion of rolling a classic swizzle stick (Quararibea turbinata) in between your palms while also lifting them up and down to combine the ingredients. The Trinidadian Queens Park is probably the best known recipe, but about half of Dram's customers aren't even familiar with this style of drink, says Guffey. "A lot of people look really surprised when you present them with a giant glass filled with sparkling crushed ice. You see their eyes light up. The camera comes out, and you know they weren't prepared for it."
Considering the theatrical preparation and presentation—"I think it gives a not too flare-y showmanship," says Hazell—it's a good cocktail type to support on the rule that customers will pay slightly more for something slightly more involved. But Hazell and Guffey do it for the love of the drink and a basic belief that the fun factor of a drink doesn't have to detract from its complexity. "As much as I love an Old Fashioned made correctly," says Hazell, "Swizzles are a flamboyant and sexy alternative."
Dram being the bar equivalent of a teaching hospital for mixos-in-training, cocktail types (thus Swizzles) span the gamut. "If it's on the back bar, we've swizzled it," says Guffey, who takes a darker, more savory approach to the drink. "I wanted to break away from the idea of a Swizzle being only a summer style, light drink," says Guffey. Her Bermuda Highway Swizzle does the job with the judicious application of tawny Port, orgeat, maple syrup, fig jam, and what Guffey calls a "fat pinch of salt." "The beauty of using rich flavors in the Swizzle is that even on crushed ice and throughout the dilution process, the drink is big and burly enough to maintain its flavor profile." The only drawback: with heavier ingredients: Guffey can't do the classic swizzle action to mix the drink. "The body of our orgeat and maple would sink to the bottom," she says. "As far as maintaining a type of theatrics, shaking still does it for people, not to mention busting out a double strainer and the giant tall Swizzle glass gets people pretty stoked regardless."
Hazell's Corner of the Sky (named for the ascending electronica of a Cut Copy track) goes in another direction, leaning into the Swizzle's delicacy and island heritage. "[It] was made to be a refreshing, summer fruit-forward, rum-based cocktail to take you from South Williamsburg to the [tropical] islands." (A trip we'd like to take, a cocktail we can better afford.) Starting with a base of Banks 5 Island blended rum—the white rum standard-setter from swizzling countries like Trinidad and Guyana—Hazell laces the blackberry syrup with some spicy ginger syrup, all brightened up with fresh lime and enriched with just a touch of Dram's creamy orgeat. A lighter variation, it's like putting a silk dress on a runway model: structured but fluid, light, spirited, racy.
And here we celebrate the best part of New York as mixology mecca: drinks like disparate cousins share menu space and come from the same spirit of informed, idiosyncratic experimentation. "I think the goal is to teach, not turn off," says Guffey. Students of Swizzle school, take note.