Think of switchel as that refreshing summer drink you didn’t know you needed—there’s a reason farmers used to drink it after working in the fields all day. Made with fresh ginger, vinegar, water, and honey, it couldn’t be simpler to make!
Photography Credit: Leela Cyd
Switchels are a simple, non-alcoholic drink with an old history. You can find literary and historical references to this easy, zippy elixir — quenching the thirst of British sailors, Harvard students, and farmers — as early as the 17th century.
These days, switchel has seen a bit of a revival!
WHAT IS A SWITCHEL?
Switchel is a Colonial-era drink comprised of ginger, vinegar, water, and molasses—ingredients from different Caribbean islands brought together as American imports. Over time, home cooks replaced the molasses with other sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, or sorghum depending upon where they lived.
Switchels are often referred to as Haymakers Punch because it was made in large batches and used to replenish parched farmers after working in the hot sun all day. Think of it as the original Gatorade, only with a refreshing pucker from the vinegar, a spicy kick from the ginger, and a bit of sweetness to balance it all out.
SWITCHELS VS. SHRUBS
Shrubs, another historic vinegar-based drink that appears throughout the world, are similar to a switchel, but not identical. Shrubs are made with fruit; switchel is made with ginger.
That’s the only real difference, but because the drinks are nearly identical, sometimes you will see shrub and switchel used interchangeably.
HOW TO MAKE A GINGER SWITCHEL
My preferred recipe for ginger switchel has a strong ginger element, a sour pucker from the apple cider vinegar, and a subtle sweetness from honey. Just mix with hot water, refrigerate, and it’s ready!
Use fresh ginger, peeled and sliced. I don’t recommend using ground ginger—it won’t dissolve, and it will leave a gritty feel in your mouth.
HOW TO SERVE SWITCHEL
I like to drink this switchel on its own, but sometimes soften it with carbonated or still water. You can also use it to add interest to cocktails, lemonade, or iced tea.
Make a batch and think of it as a concentrate—use it as a mixer for endless flavor combinations.
MAKE THIS RECIPE YOUR OWN
The best part of switchel is that it is easy to adapt to your personal tastes. If you want more of a ginger kick, then boil the ginger in water or vinegar, as I do in this recipe. If you want more of a subtle ginger flavor, then don’t bother boiling water and let it infuse gently on the counter. If you want more of a sour taste, add more vinegar. Up the sweetness? Increase the honey.
MORE REFRESHING SUMMER DRINKS!
How to Make Ginger Switchel
This recipe can serve about 3 people undiluted or many more if you mix it with sparkling water. Feel free to double or even triple the recipe. Keep it in a lidded container in your refrigerator to sip on all week. Switchel will keep safely in the fridge for at least a week.
- 2- to 3-inch piece fresh ginger
- 2 1/4 cups water
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons honey
- Sparkling or still water to finish
- Quart-sized glass canning jar, or other similarly sized container
1 Prep the ginger: Use the side of a spoon to scrape the skin off the ginger. Cut the ginger into slices. You should have about 1/4 cup of sliced ginger.
2 Infuse the ginger: In a medium saucepan. bring the ginger and 2 1/4 cups water to a boil. Remove from the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes.
For a gentler, less-spicy switchel, don’t boil the water; combine the water and ginger in a jar and let them infuse gently on the counter for a few hours.
3 Combine the ingredients: In a quart-sized glass canning jar or other lidded glass container, combine the honey and vinegar. Add the ginger and water. Cover with a lid and shake to combine the ingredients.
4 Refrigerate: Cover the jar and transfer to the fridge. Drink once cold or let the ginger infuse for up to 4 days, at which point you can strain out the ginger. The longer the ginger infuses, the stronger the flavor will become. The prepared switchel will keep for seven days in the refrigerator.
5 Serve: Pour the switchel into a glass filled with ice. Drink it straight (which will be more concentrated and spicy), or top with still or sparkling water to dilute and soften the flavor. Stir and enjoy.
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