The Switchel Haze

The Switchel Haze

I Have Happily Found My New Fall Drink

During this summer of social distancing, I’ve really missed making cocktails for friends. I miss creating a drinks menu to suit the mood of an evening and pairing it with food. I miss playing around with the ingredients I have on hand, working them into classic cocktails or making unique concoctions, creating something new and totally my own.

I was reminded how much I missed these things recently when I was introduced to a locally made switchel, a sweet, Colonial-era beverage made from apple cider vinegar, ginger and maple syrup from Vermont Switchel in Hardwick. I immediately wanted to experiment with it on my bar. So while I’m waiting out the pandemic until we can entertain safely again, I ordered some switchel concentrate and am setting out to learn more about how to use it, hopefully adding at least one new cocktail recipe to my repertoire.

Vermont Switchel's Concentrate | Photo Credit: Chris Blackburn

What is Switchel?

Switchel is a tart combination of water and apple cider vinegar, lightly sweetened with either molasses, honey or maple syrup; it’s often flavored with ginger and lemon. It has a crisp, clean flavor with a smooth finish. It’s similar to shrub, a fruited vinegar drink popular in England as far back as the 15th century. Switchel is also akin to kombucha, though it’s not fermented or effervescent and doesn’t have the tannic finish you’ll get from tea-based kombucha. All three make for tasty, well-balanced drinks on their own or can be made lighter and more refreshing with an added splash of seltzer. Switchel especially can offer the cocktail enthusiast new and interesting flavors to mix with spirits, plus, as a concentrate, it’s conveniently shelf stable.

The Origins of Switchel

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, switchel was a popular drink in early America throughout the 17th and into the 19th centuries. A favorite thirst quencher for farmers hurling hay in the hot summer heat, switchel was often referred to as “haymaker’s punch.” Many colonists made switchel using ingredients from the Carribean islands, including molasses as the sweetener. However, switchel making has a strong tradition among Vermont dairy farmers who would often make it with maple syrup instead. Often prepared in the morning by filling canning jars or jugs with spring water, maple syrup and apple cider vinegar, farmers would then nestle their drink in nearby streams to keep it cool as they worked the fields. Some Amish communities make old-fashioned switchel to this day—so much so that outsiders have referred to it as the “Amish Gatorade.”

Mixe en Place | Photo Credit: Chris Blackburn

Time to Get Mixing

Once my switchel concentrate arrived in the mail, I got to work. By the time August rolls around, I’m just about ready for fall. I wanted to create a refreshing, spicy drink, leaning heavily into switchel's Vermont roots and playing off the maple sweetener. Rum was my spirit of choice, its sweetness counterbalancing the vinegar’s sourness. I was fortunate to find Mad River Distillers’ Maple Cask Rum at my local spirits shop, and to amplify switchel’s ginger flavor I decided to create a riff on the classic Dark ‘N’ Stormy. Once I loaded my cocktail shaker with microplaned fresh ginger, a squeeze of lime juice and a handful or two of ice, I was ready to shake.

Shake It Real Good | Photo credit: Sarah Blackburn

The Cocktail

After pouring the cocktail into a rocks glass, I topped it with a splash of seltzer and garnished with a wheel of lime. A quick stir and I was ready to sample this new drink. Visually, the ginger suspended in the cocktail provided a wonderful haze and depth of flavor, without the sour bite I expected. The grated ginger provided a luxurious mouthfeel and warming sensation. I have happily found my new fall drink.

The Switchel Haze

1 ounce Mad River Distillers Maple Cask Rum
1 ounce Vermont Switchel Concentrate
1 ounce microplaned fresh ginger root
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
2 ounces seltzer water
Lime, for garnish

Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker except the seltzer and enough ice to cover. Shake vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Strain gently into a rocks glass over ice, pouring out as much of the grated ginger into the drink as you can. Add seltzer and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a slice of lime.

Mad River's Maple Cask Rum | Photo Credit: Chris Blackburn

The Switchel Haze | Photo Credit: Chris Blackburn

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