We've gone a bit mad for vinegar drinks this summer, and making homemade shrubs led us to another old-fashioned refresher: the switchel. Dating back to the early American colonies and possibly the Caribbean before that, this vinegar and ginger drink became known as haymaker's punch in the 19th century, when it was served to quench farmers' thirst during the hay harvest. It's a fun recipe to tinker with and a charming alternative to aggressively sweet modern day drinks.
Our research turned up all sorts of recipes and proportions, but switchels usually contained cider vinegar and ground ginger (which was more readily available than fresh) and were lightly sweetened with molasses or other sweeteners. Some recipes also included lemons or oatmeal.
We experimented with both ground and fresh ginger as well as molasses, honey, maple syrup, and brown sugar. Each version had its own merits, though overall the sugar ones tasted a bit flat and we were most enamored of the honey and ginger combination, which was bright and complex. Molasses, while possibly the most traditional, was a bit too reminiscent of gingerbread – fun for a couple sips but not necessarily an entire glass. We also found that ground ginger tasted more mellow than fresh.
We recommend starting with the recipe below and then adjusting to your liking. The switchel may be served alone, over ice, or mixed with sparkling water.
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons sweetener (molasses, maple syrup, honey, sugar)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger or 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup water
Combine all ingredients in a jar or glass. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to a day.
Shake or stir before serving. Taste and adjust sweetener, if desired. If using fresh ginger, strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.
Pour over ice or mix with soda water, if desired.