The tiki god glass nestled amidst the bottles of my home bar bristles with a fantastical array of plastic swizzle sticks. There’s the yellow putter from the Brae Burn Country Club, a red, lobster-topped relic from Hugo’s in Cohasset, Massachusetts and the see-through turquoise marlin emblazoned with Jimmy’s Harborside Restaurant. My favorite is a slender white stirrer topped with a miniature billboard reading “Memo: See you at the office.”
I inherited these relics from my late grandfather. He spent a lot of time out on the road in New England as a publisher’s sales rep in the mid-1950s and on through the end of the following decade. Whenever he stopped for a meal, he ordered a cocktail (or two), which usually arrived with swizzle stick jutting up from its depths. The idea was that patrons would take them home—like they would a book of matches—as a reminder of the bar or restaurant. For the establishments, the imprinted plastic utensils were branding tools.
The origins of these plastic stirrers, while muddled, have their roots in the Caribbean. The term “swizzle” begins appearing in literature in the 19th century, though it refers to a longstanding cocktail tradition—not a bartending implement. According to Edward Randolph Emerson’s Beverages, Past and Present: An Historical Sketch of Their Production (1908) a swizzle was a cocktail from St. Kitts “composed of six parts water to one of rum and an aromatic flavouring.”