There may be snow on the ground, but I can't help thinking about the garden. I just heard that kale will appear at the farmers market in Portland this week, and that makes me hopeful for an early spring. Although it's already St. Patrick's Day, it's still too soon to start planting around here—the ground is still frozen! Cross your fingers that it won't be long before the snow is gone so we can bask in the warmth of longer days and enjoy luxurious thirst quenchers. We will plant basil and start harvesting mint just in time for juleps—but I refuse to wait that long.
I suppose I should have featured something green, or at least something that contains Irish whiskey for the Drink of the Week. This cocktail does have mint, if that counts. I normally just use herbs that I grow myself, but that's hard to do during Minnesota winters. Luckily, we had plans for dinner that required mint, so we already had some. Obviously, most fresh herbs are available in the supermarket—even out of season—but in the case of mint, it's better to visit an asian market where they sell bigger bunches at a fraction of the price you'll find at the grocery store. Since it is a popular item they sell in large quantities, I find the mint from places like Sun Foods on University to be fresher and more flavorful than what normally comes in the expensive plastic bins you find at big-box supermarkets. Besides, a trip to Sun Foods is an adventure!
Queen's Park Swizzle
3 oz Demerara rum
.5 oz rich simple syrup (2:1)
.5 oz lime juice
shell of half a lime (optional)
10 mint leaves
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Place the mint leaves in a tall glass and gently muddle them. Draw up the leaves, rubbing the fragrant oils around the inside of the glass. Add the syrup, lime, rum and bitters. Fill the glass with crushed ice and swizzle until frost forms on the outside of the glass. Top up with more crushed ice and garnish it with more Angostura bitters to create layers of color. Finish with a sprig of mint and sipping straws.
This recipe calls for Demerara, a type of rum distilled in Guyana. I am using Lemon Hart, but I could have used the El Dorado I brought back from the Caribbean. Options are limited, but the point is that Demerara rums have a distinct flavor that is difficult to replicate with substitutions. If you look hard enough, you can still find 80-proof Lemon Hart on the shelves (although the 151 has become notoriously difficult) and if you do, grab it—you'll be glad you did! This cocktail may have originated in Trinidad, but it would not have been made with their local, lighter rum. And at 3 ounces, it probably shouldn't be an overproof. Whatever rum you use, you want one that's rich and flavorful.
With barely half a lime's worth of juice and some rich simple syrup, the key to this drink has more to do with technique than the combination of ingredients. It's the swizzling that sets it apart. The idea relies upon a multi-pronged mixing tool that you can make yourself, or pick up on your next visit to Martinique. I tried to find one in St. Lucia and located a crafts vendor who had some, but they were all too big! Maybe they would have worked if I was going to make these by the gallon (not a bad idea). You could use a bar spoon, but a real swizzle stick (one that will fit into your glass) let's you mix in layers, keeping the mint on the bottom, dodging the lime shell (if you tossed it in) while super-chilling the rest as you twirl the crushed ice by rubbing the stick between your palms.
Like a Julep, the Queen's Park Swizzle is a strong cocktail worthy of slow, luxurious sips. Your straw, buried in mint, draws flavor from the bottom up. As the level drops it remains filled with crushed ice that kindly sheds water as you go. The fragrant rum with it's rich caramel and molasses character is well-suited for this style. It soars as a mixer and stands up to the increasing dilution. There's nothing fancy about this swizzle, nor is it difficult to make. Using a swizzle stick is fun, but don't let it stop you from making this with just a spoon. Demerara rum is also worth the effort to obtain—especially for complex tiki recipes—although this one is pretty basic. Simple it may be, but who says luxury needs to be complicated? Besides, it's better than green beer.