Selling Switchel

An apple cider vinegar–based mixer, switchel is gaining ground in cocktails.

The Bar at The Spectator Hotel's Flippin' The Switchel incorporates house-made pear-ginger switchel, pear brandy, pear and ginger liqueurs, fresh lime juice and ginger beer.
The Bar at The Spectator Hotel's Flippin' The Switchel incorporates house-made pear-ginger switchel, pear brandy, pear and ginger liqueurs, fresh lime juice and ginger beer.

Touted for its health benefits and ability to add acid and spice into cocktails, switchel is enjoying a mixology moment. The apple cider vinegar–based mixer has long been gaining ground with select crowds as a non-alcoholic soda alternative, and now, with the rise of vinegar-based shrubs in cocktails, switchel’s usage is expanding. While shrubs are generally syrups that combine plain vinegar with fruit, vegetables or herbs, switchel has an apple cider vinegar base and is mixed with molasses or honey and often ginger. In addition, switchel can be consumed by itself, while shrubs are intended for mixing.

Blake Pope, the general manager of Kindred Restaurant in Davidson, North Carolina, keeps a house-made, carbonated switchel on draft behind the bar. She says that most of the restaurant’s guests aren’t familiar with switchel when they see it on the menu, so she lets them taste it straight first and then steers them toward cocktails mixed with the ingredient. “We love sharing our switchel so people can try it,” Pope explains. “It’s usually a hit and an easy sell. Switchel is a fun mixer because it’s super versatile. And our switchel is carbonated, which makes it even more refreshing.”

Kindred Restaurant offers a Barkeep’s Choice cocktail, which allows bartenders to make up drinks on the spot after asking guests what flavors and spirits they enjoy, and Pope says switchel often gets used in those concoctions. She notes that bartenders mix switchel into variations of Mules, tiki drinks and the Penicillin. In addition, switchel gets play in cocktails like The Switcharoo ($12), comprising Old Overholt rye, simple syrup and switchel, garnished with a cinnamon stick, and the Grip Tape Goons ($12), made with Aviation gin, Amaro Montenegro, Giulio Cocchi Dopo Teatro vermouth and switchel, served on the rocks.

“Switchel gives great notes of acid and a lingering spice from the fresh ginger,” Pope says. “Bartenders have been trying for years to find fun ways to incorporate acid into cocktails without grabbing lemons or citrus juices, and switchel is a great way to do that. Its preparation is fairly easy and you see the use of similar flavor profiles—ginger, apple and honey—quite often.”

The familiarity of switchel’s dominant apple and ginger flavors helps convince guests who are unfamiliar with the drink to try it. Neil Goldberg, the tasting room manager for Mad River Distillers in Vermont, uses locally produced Vermont Switchel in cocktails. He says switchel mixes well with whiskey and adds flavor to lighter vodka-based cocktails. The Vermont Switchel brand has strong ginger notes and spicy, earthy elements, he adds.

“Switchel is probably the most asked-about term on our menu,” Goldberg explains. “Although awareness seems to be increasing, maybe 20 percent of our guests know what switchel is. Vermont Switchel has really nice ginger notes, which makes it pretty approachable, though I try to manage expectations when people order our switchel drink. It tends to dominate, so I pair it with stronger flavors. Last year I made a fall cocktail with spiced apple, switchel and Bourbon, and I’ve also splashed it into a hot toddy with apple brandy.” The venue’s Switchel in the Rye ($12) cocktail is made with Mad River Revolution rye, Vermont Switchel, jasmine syrup and fresh lemon juice.

In Charleston, South Carolina, Allen Lancaster—the master mixologist at The Bar at The Spectator Hotel—makes a switchel that incorporates pear purée for his Flippin’ The Switchel ($13) drink. The cocktail mixes Kammer Williams Pear in a Bottle brandy, St. George Spiced Pear liqueur, Giffard Ginger of the Indies liqueur, fresh lime juice, ginger beer and the pear-ginger switchel.

“The switchel lends brightness, acidity and a touch of sweetness,” Lancaster says. “It’s a support component that takes down the power of the main spirit, and it’s versatile. I’ve found that it works well in conjunction with fall spice flavors. We’ve had a very favorable response to our switchel.”