Switchel was once America’s most popular drink. It is one of those drinks that is SO American it even makes an appearance in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ’Little House on the Prairie’.
By day, it was thirst-quenching drink that farmers kept chilled in mason jars in the streams ready for their breaks. It was also the punch that filled the bowl (often spiked with rum) in the centre of the Senate. By night, it spiced up numerous cocktails, but was a particularly favoured drink during the Prohibition-era, providing a warming kick without the alcohol.
But what it it?
At it’s heart, a Switchel is a concentrated infusion of Ginger, Apple Cider Vinegar and a sweetener of some sort, traditionally Honey, Maple Syrup or Molasses. It’s designed to be diluted with water (sparkling or still) or used as a delicious ingredient in cocktails.
Mother Root Ginger Switchel is a perfectly balanced blend of Pressed Ginger Juice, Blossom Honey, Organic Apple Cider Vinegar and a touch of chilli.
Can you really drink vinegar?
First thing’s first: switchel is not straight vinegar. The vinegar is just one ingredient in the blend and in just the right amount to provide a refreshing zing, and flavoursome bite. A bit like seasoning, it’s role is to enhance other flavours. It makes the ginger really jump out of the glass, and when you add it as an ingredient in other cocktails, it will amplify those too making them the best tasting drinks you’ll ever have (alcoholic or not).
Vinegar-based drinks have a surprisingly long history, dating back to Ancient Greece. But it was centuries later, in 17th-century England and colonial America, that they became a popular drink, often known as “shrubs” and “switchels”.
Traditional drinking-vinegars were made by macerating fruit, herbs or spices with sugar or honey before straining and adding vinegar. These tart, flavourful syrups were then mixed with water for a refreshing and reviving drink.
Industrial food processing and refrigeration almost led to the demise of this drink entirely. But thankfully today, age-old recipes are being rediscovered and new ideas are being developed to reintroduce people once more to these delicious beverages.