When your drink appears at a bar, chances are pretty good it’ll be served with some form of decoration. From an orange zest to a sprig of lime, full-on tiki fruit skewer or a stick of bacon in a bloody mary, there are infinite possibilities for the garnish that’s intended to spruce up your drink.

Some garnishes bring function with form – acting as skewers to hold other garnish, replacing a straw, or giving the guest a “stirrer” so they can keep their drink mixed as they enjoy it. In this article I’d like to take a moment to shine a light on these overlooked drink decorations – the humble drink stirrer.

Note: I’ve seen the term “swizzle stick” used interchangeably for “drink stirrer.” While that appears to be technically correct, I consider a swizzle stick to be something that looks like this – and comes from the “Swizzlestick Tree”. More on this in a few months!)

Wait, what’s it for?

Before getting too deep, let’s take a moment to address the obvious: what is a drink stirrer for, anyway? I think the answer varies. In come drinks (particularly those with crushed ice), a stirrer can be handy to let the guest self-stir as the ice begins to melt. (Or for guests who prefer not to – they can simply not.)

In other cases, (like the “salad” cocktail we joked about in this episode of our podcast), stirrers are quite good as a type of skewer, digging tasty garnish out of the bottom of the glass so guests can eat them.

I’ll contend that perhaps most often, the drink stirrer serves half as decoration and half as a toy for the guest to fiddle with. And y’know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.

Thinking Outside the Straw

OK, so if a stirrer is a toy/decoration most of the time, I think that opens up a world of possibilities. The bendy straw’s days are numbered – there are just so many options for making your stirrer a bit more interesting!

The Glorified Garnish

Is your garnish long and skinny? Done. Your garnish is a de-facto stirrer (whether intended or not.) Great candidates for this include celery sticks, lemongrass, fennel, carrot, etc. If it fits, it works!

Flavor Enhancement

If you’re putting it in the glass, why not get some flavor out of the deal? Again, the sky’s the limit – as long as it fits in the glass.

  • Vanilla Beans
    Cut off the ends and clean out the seeds of your vanilla bean and it doubles as a straw! Keep those seeds though – they make great homemade vanilla.
  • Rock Candy Sticks
    Similar to the straws we made in this blog post, use rock candy as your stirrer and let your guest sweeten the cocktail to taste.
  • Candy Cane or other stick-shaped candy
    Similar to the “rock candy” idea above, use peppermint sticks to add flavor and sweetness.

Gettin’ Fancy

There’s no reason to stop there – one quick Amazon search yields dozens of stirrer options from plastic disposal to high quality reusable steel.

My personal Favorite: Hip-Stirrers by Drynkware

When Daniel from Drynkware reached out to us to tell us about his drink stirrers, I was a bit skeptical. But he kindly sent a sample and we were sold. Daniel’s tongue-in-cheek name (Hip-stirrers? Get it?) goes perfectly with the style.

The stirrers range from bowties to cassette tapes to tiny robots. Not to mention – these guys are really quite well made and feel as though they could hold up to a decent amount of bar wear.

Whatever you’re putting in your glass, I hope you’ll consider having a bit of fun with it. If you’re at a high volume bar it may make the most sense to stick with disposable options like straws – but I suspect most bars could find a way to get a little creative without impacting service too much.

What are you using at your bar? Let’s hear it in the comments below!

Julia Tunstall

Julia Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and Chief Cocktail Taster. She's in charge of keeping things running smoothly around here, but you'll also find her stopping by on the Mixology Talk Podcast or hanging around the Craft Cocktail Club.