Get Ready for a Sip of Switchel

By Linda Knittel

A naturally non-caffeinated beverage brewed from a trio of superfoods, switchel boasts an array of health benefits and a refreshing taste that leaves you wondering how this age-old tonic ever fell out of style. Traditionally made from a combination of water, ginger, cider vinegar and a sweetener like molasses, the drink, often referred to as haymaker’s punch, was used by colonial farmers as a thirst quencher during the long, hot days of the hay harvest.

The company’s founders, Ely Key and Garrett Riffle, first met while both were working in agriculture on the West Coast. Key later moved back to Vermont, and it was then that his father told him about the heritage beverage. Intrigued, he researched the drink, experimented with its production, and later introduced it to Riffle during a visit. Instantly the two knew they were onto something.

So, in 2012, after a bit of recipe sleuthing and experimentation, they sold their first commercial batch of Up Mountain Switchel at a local Vermont farmers’ market. The duo spent the rest of the summer refining the formula in Key’s grandmother’s barn. Their recipe has caught on and so has demand. Today Key and Riffle, along with their Switchel Squad, produce the drink at their Brooklyn headquarters.

While the exact origins of the beverage are a bit fuzzy—some tracing it to the West Indies, others to the Amish—the roots of Up Mountain Switchel’s recipe are firmly planted in eighteenth-century Vermont. They opt for freshly ground ginger root as opposed to the powdered version used in colonial times. Their organic raw apple cider vinegar is sourced from a small orchard in the nearby Finger Lakes region, and the pure maple syrup they use instead of molasses comes from a good friend in Vermont

“There isn’t one benefit that stands above the others,” says Riffle, one of five guys that now lovingly produce the drink by hand in a warehouse in Brooklyn. “It comes down to this: We all know ginger tastes really good and soothes one’s stomach; it is also a very strong natural anti-inflammatory and a powerful antioxidant. Apple cider vinegar is rich in acetic acid, which works symbiotically with your digestive system to do a few different things, one of which is assist in digestion, lessening the burden on your system; another is to actually promote satiation when drank before a meal. Lastly, maple syrup is an unrefined, sucrose-dominant, mineral-rich sweetener; it’s easily assimilated by the body and immediately turned into energy. All in all, our switchel tastes damn delicious and is really good for you too.”

The team attributes its success of introducing an old-fashioned drink to today’s modern palate to using only the freshest ingredients and its commitment to making each mason-jar-filled batch by hand, and having a lot of fun while doing so.

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