Episode 074 - The Switchel Episode
What’s shakin’ cocktail fans?
Welcome back to another episode of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast!
This episode, we talk with my friend Nikki Blank of Sip City about one of the world’s most ubiquitous and time-tested drinks: switchel. This is a cocktail mixer and functional beverage that falls somewhere between a shrub and a tea, and we learn all about the wonders of switchel as we explore its history, its various incarnations around the world, and how to use it in cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks.
In this discussion some of the topics we cover include:
Where to place switchel on the spectrum of sweet and acidified beverages and teas
How switchel spread across the world and became popular as “Haymaker’s punch” - literally an early version of Gatorade for all those farmer-athletes in colonial America.
The potential health benefits and life-enhancing attributes of switchel, balanced by a healthy dose of skepticism about certain claims you’ll find floating around the internet.
How to incorporate switchel into your cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages
Some thoughts on No-booze November and Dry January
The definition of an “EANAB”
And much, much more.
Check out our Kickstarter!
As you know, the Kickstarter for The Essential Tasting Journal for Spirits & Cocktails is live. We’re right on track in terms of our funding goals, so please click the link on the show notes page and head on over to Kickstarter to claim your signed first edition copy before the campaign ends. You get that for just $20 (plus shipping).
Visit us at The EmporiYUM!
Our second big announcement is that we will be hanging out at The Emporiyum at Dock 5 in Union Market all weekend (November 9-11, 2018). So if you’re in the DC area, I really recommend checking it out. The Modern Bar Cart Squad is gonna be decked out in tiki attire, shaking up painkillers, and sampling and selling all our fantastic cocktail mixers and gear. I like the Emporiyum because it’s a great way to get all your holiday shopping for the foodies in your life knocked out before Thanksgiving, which makes for a less hectic lead-up to the holidays.
Here’s a link to the Eventbrite page where you can purchase your tickets. And if you use the code MODERNBAR18 - all one word, 18 is a number - at checkout, you’ll get 20% off your admission. I can tell you that this event is almost sold out, so hit up that code as soon as you get a chance to secure your tickets.
Featured Cocktail: The Rum Swizzle
This episode’s featured cocktail is the Swizzle, which is a traditional Bermudian drink made using switchel and rum. Now, admittedly, there aren’t a whole lot of recipes out there on the internet that actually CALL for switchel in your swizzle. Some rum swizzle recipes are basically just daiquiri recipes, and some call for 20th century tiki ingredients like falernum.
So, here’s a recipe that closes its eyes and imagines itself back to a time when switchel and rum inhabited the same glass. To make this rum swizzle recipe, you’ll need:
2 oz rum (I’d go with something dark and British with a bit of age or funk on it)
4-6 oz of switchel (depending on how sweet or watered down it happens to be)
Several Dashes of Aromatic Bitters - We like to use Embitterment Aromatic Bitters
Now here’s what really makes a swizzle a swizzle. The swizzle stick.
This is literally a stick from a small tree native to the Caribbean that’s taken from the tree and trimmed so that it has a few shoots extending from the end at different angles. And the way you use this stick is you put your rum and your switchel in a collins or highball glass, you fill it with crushed or pebble ice, and you vigorously spin the stick between your palms until the drink mixes and froths and the glass gets frosty (see image).
Then, you remove the swizzle stick from the drink, add a nice healthy bitters float to the top, garnish with any fresh fruit or mint you have available, and enjoy with a straw.
Switchel is an apple cider vinegar- and ginger-based drink that has been around for centuries, if not millennia. Here’s what you need to know about switchel, and Sip City in particular!
Switchel Fun Facts
One important switchel precursor is Oxymel (meaning “vinegar and honey”), pioneered by the ancient Greeks. This was often infused with herbs and used as medicine.
In medieval Europe, apothecaries and healers used sweetened, acidified, herb-infused drinks as tonics for various ailments, from gut trouble to gout.
Switchel made its way to the new world and took root in both the Caribbean and the American colonies. In the Caribbean, it was paired with rum and sweetened with molasses and cane sugar, and in the colonies, it was called “Haymaker’s Punch,” and often served to field workers as a refreshing and replenishing drink.
Switchel vs. Combucha vs. Shrub
All three of these tangy beverages involve a sweetener and some sort of fruit or herbal flavoring. Switchels tend to be ginger and honey focused, whereas shrubs and combuchas don’t necessaryily contain ginger. Switchels and shrubs are non-fermented (or prebiotic), whereas Kombucha goes through a couple rounds of fermentation.
Sip City Switchel
Taking Switchel into the 21st century, here’s a quick review of the Sip City lineup, which you can find at fine retailers throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New York. Visit Sip City’s store finder to locate the closest retailer to you.
Mocktails vs. EANABS
Switchels (along with shrubs) have proven themselves to be really excellent as cocktail replacements for people who don’t want to consume alcohol. In particular, the ginger in the switchel burns similarly to alcohol, but doesn’t intoxicate.
Today, there is a growing trend of people who are recognizing that their drinking habits are potentially worrisome. However, they also want something that tastes as appealing as a cocktail and doesn’t feel like a lesser option.
Thus was born the term “EANAB” - which is an acronym that stands for “Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverage.” It is meant to replace the term “mocktail,” which implies that something is missing or “fake.”
I like mezcal riffs on traditional cocktails - so a mezcal manhattan, or negroni, or margarita.
If You Were a Cocktail Tool or Ingredient, What Would You Be?
I would be a strainer - making sure that none of the B.S. gets through.
Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present?
I’d have martinis with Jane Fonda in a dark, classy speakeasy.
How to Learn about Switchel
There’s lots of great books out there on shrubs and switchels and ingredients. Some useful ones include:
The Drunken Botanist - Amy Stewart
Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times - Michael Dietsch
Also, making switchel at home is very easy to do, so a quick google search will yield some great DIY recipes that you can tweak to your own flavor preferences. Just make sure you’re diluting your apple cider vinegar.