The Fascinating Origins Of The Rum Swizzle Cocktail

Bermudians consider the rum swizzle, a rum-based cocktail blended with citrus juices, spices, and bitters, their national tipple. However, what constitutes the perfect rum swizzle depends on who you ask. The same can be said for its origins, which are most publicly associated with the Swizzle Inn, Bermuda's oldest pub.

According to owner Jay Correia, the original version was introduced when the Outerbridge family opened the pub in 1932 (via Smithsonian Magazine). Working with what he describes as the island's "pretty limited" inventory, the Swizzle Inn's early concoction was made with Gosling's Black Seal rum, Gosling's Barbados rum, orange and pineapple juice, lemon juice, and spicy falernum liqueur.

The "swizzle" in rum swizzle comes from the fact that the drink's foam is achieved by stirring the mixture with a swizzle stick. The stick was traditionally cut from the Quararibea turbinate, or swizzlestick tree, native to several Caribbean islands, including Bermuda. Thanks to the small limbs that sprout from the tree's branches, stirring a drink with these sticks results in a delightfully frothy end product.

Did the Swizzle Inn create the rum swizzle?

This would be all well and good if the narrative outlined by the Swizzle Inn could be accepted without question, but it's a bit more complicated than that. Rum swizzles may have been around as early as the 18th century, albeit in a much simpler form of rum diluted with water. The practice of using a swizzle stick wasn't introduced by the Swizzle Inn either, with British travel writer Anna Brassey noting the tool in use in Trinidad in 1885 (via Tales of the Cocktail).

One especially prevalent rumor asserts that rum swizzles were among the drinks served at what was touted as the first cocktail party (a heavily contested claim), hosted in London in 1924. This would place the rum swizzle as far away as England eight years before the Swizzle Inn opened. However, the host himself dismissed this. Writing for Esquire, Alec Waugh distinctly recalled the drinks as daiquiris, not as rum swizzles. Yet, he did mention the use of a swizzle stick, which may be where the misconception arose.

Regardless of Waugh's party and what was served at it, it's far more likely that the Swizzle Inn simply popularized the modern rum swizzle as we know it. Ultimately, the rum swizzle is more of a reflection of the Caribbean's long-running romance with rum, that never-failing bar staple, than any single pub's legacy.