Popularized in the United States by the Shaker communities of the Northeast, switchel can be made by mixing water with apple cider vinegar, ginger, and natural sweeteners. Honey, maple syrup or molasses were the most frequent additions. Another variation calls for oatmeal and blackstrap molasses to offset the drink’s tangy acidity. Upon first taste, switchel is interestingly different. With additional sips the taste becomes gradually more pleasing on the palate. Some describe the sweet-yet-spicy flavor profile as similar to Kombucha.
Switchel’s roots can be traced back to a fifteenth century vinegar-based drink called “oxymel,” common to the Caribbean. This island drink established itself as a popular summer refreshment of American colonists in the late seventeenth century, and by the nineteenth century switchel had become a beverage of choice for rehydrating thirsty farmers at hay harvest time — prompting its nicknames Shakers Haymaker’s Punch and Haying Water. With only a handful of ingredients, switchel was a true, all-natural energy drink. Workers could drink any amount of it without cloying the taste or destroying the appetite.
Knowledge of this beverage has fallen over time, yet the apple orchards and native sugar maple trees that provided the original ingredients for this colonial tonic still flourish in the Northeast. Drunk on its own, or transformed it into a creative cocktail base, switchel is a deliciously refreshing, natural alternative to artificially flavored beverages.