Though switchel’s origins are a bit murky the variety brewed by Up Mountain Switchel comes from 18th-century Vermont. It’s an American heritage beverage made of apple cider vinegar, ginger and sweetener — in this case maple sugar (fitting for Vermont). The beverage has long been drunk by farmers during haying season to help them stay cool and hydrated.
“I will give a traveler a cup of switchel, if he want it; but am I bound to supply him with a sweet taste?”
- I and My Chimney, by Herman Melville
If vinegar sounds like a strange ingredient for a beverage consider how refreshing a glass of lemonade is. Vinegar provided a similar tanginess at a time when citrus fruits were not widely available to the average American farmer. So why the ginger? The 18th-century understanding of physiology assumed that hot drinks were healthier for refreshment while working in the sun, thus spicy ginger in switchel mimicked the burn of alcohol adding heat to the drink.
After a long ride on a particularly warm February day here in Denver I gave the bottle of Up Mountain Switchel a go and I have to say, it was pretty good once I got past the vinegary smell. It’s tangy, refreshing, cooling and the ginger definitely helped calm my post-ride stomach. Better yet, elevating the second bottle with a little gin made for a very interesting drink that drank wonderfully while I was powering through a cold. I would also consider picking up a bottle the next time I’m suffering with a sour stomach. I can’t, however, say the drink is for everyone, my wife couldn’t make it past the cider vinegar smell, but if that’s not a deal breaker it’s definitely worth checking out.