Some call it ‘Nature’s Gatorade.’ Others call it the ‘Nectar of Hipsters.’ Whichever term you choose, the fact is that switchel is coming back with a quickness. (Mostly because hipsters don’t seem to be tired of it just yet.)
So what is switchel, besides something with a neat name that vaguely reminds you of hiking? Traditionally, it’s a drink made with apple cider vinegar, ginger, and sweetener — usually honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup. Beyond that, its ingredients can vary: one recipe I found increased the tart factor with lime juice, while Up Mountain Switchel, a Vermont-based retailer of the beverage, sells both a lemon version and one containing yerba mate (for an energy boost).
In short: it’s tart, but not too tart. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. It’s energizing, if only because it makes you feel like you’re doing your body a favor. The first time you drink it, you may suddenly find yourself researching hot yoga and marathon training. This is okay. This is natural. Embrace the change your body is feeling.
All joking aside, switchel isn’t actually new to the beverage scene. Also called “haymaker’s punch,” it’s been a fan favorite of farmers for a very long time. As in, if you happen to have an old copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter on your bookshelf, you can read about something suspiciously switchel-like: “Ma had sent them ginger-water. She had sweetened the cool well-water with sugar, flavored it with vinegar, and put in plenty of ginger to warm their stomachs so they could drink till they were not thirsty. Ginger-water would not make them sick, as plain cold water would when they were so hot.”
Need more convincing? Allow me to quote Melville’s slightly lesser-known classic short story, “I and My Chimney”: “I will give a traveler a cup of switchel, if he want it; but am I bound to supply him with a sweet taste?”
Also, don’t forget. Melville had a sweet hipster beard. Probably switchel had something to do with that.
Although most of us aren’t going out to the fields and harvesting hay these days, switchel is great for modern drinkers too. As Susan Alexander, founder of Vermont Switchel Company, told Modern Farmer (yes) in an interview, “Our grandparents knew that switchel was a pure and effective way to stave off dehydration and replenish those electrolytes they lost while toiling in the sun. It’s a year-round beverage used to stay hydrated while hiking, biking, skiing or practicing yoga.” Yeah! Post-yoga switchel! Can you get more Brooklyn? (Yes: drink it while riding back home on your fixie. There you go.)
The thing is, switchel is a great way to get apple cider vinegar—the newest unproven cure-all—inside of you. And everyone loves fermented foods (brought to you by the letter “k”: kombucha, kefir and kimchi) for gut health. Which switchel is, as long as it’s made with unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Making it a great option for people like myself, who just can’t stomach kombucha (which is so 2010, anyway). Plus, you can be all mysterious, like, “Yeah, I’m drinking switchel…you probably haven’t heard of it. But that’s cool. You keep enjoying your ‘bucha.”
Another great thing: switchel’s optional fizziness makes it a good transition beverage for soda addicts. And how great is it for all of December’s standard revelry? Switchel is tart enough to serve as a palate punishment the day after a boozy party and also hydrates excellently. Hello, electrolytes.
Or, you can go the opposite route and add alcohol to it: anything from gin to rye to vodka to rum. (In my own highly scientific tests, I found that the spiciness of rye complimented the tart, gingery flavors of the switchel very nicely.)
Here’s the best part of this whole ridiculous exposé: it’s very easy to make at home. Yeah, you can buy it bottled from places like Whole Foods, but homemade is always better, right? The key is to use high-quality ingredients: grade-B maple syrup (for a richer maple flavor), unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and fresh ginger and lemon juice. In just five minutes of minimal effort, you can whip up a batch of concentrate for a whole week’s worth of the good stuff.
Here’s a great recipe, from Times Union author Deanna Fox:
Switchel — Makes about 4 servings
- ½ cup raw apple cider vinegar
- 1 (5-inch) piece fresh ginger root, sliced
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 cups cold water (carbonation optional here)
- Mint (optional)
In a small saucepan, simmer the raw apple cider vinegar and ginger root for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the maple syrup and lemon juice. Stir to combine and allow to cool.
Add this switchel mixture to the cold water (use more or less water depending on taste) and garnish with fresh mint, if desired.