Switchels and shrubs, tangy vinegar-based elixirs, are the latest hip sips, although they date to the 17th century. Years ago farmers drank them (aka “haymakers”) as they toiled in the hot fields. Today, like our craft brews and artisan sprits, they are the new old drinks.
Switchel is the name for the complete drink often made with a shrub. Melina Lamer of Superior Switchel began making switchel to kick her Gatorade habit when she was a hockey-playing college student at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Her combo of cinnamon, ginger, vinegar and honey was a hit among her teammates, a surefire post-workout beverage and an energizing alternative to coffee or tea.
In January 2015, Lamer launched Superior Switchel, named in homage to her favorite place, and began producing orange maple, lavender lemon and Haymaker (the original mix) in old-fashioned 16-ounce canning jars. It’s available in Twin Cities co-ops, Kowalski’s and liquor and specialty stores.
“As an environmental studies major and outdoors person, I wanted reusable jars,” she said. “We source local honey, and we donate 2 percent of our revenue to nonprofit outdoor organizations.”
Lamer also holds down a full-time job delivering mail, plays hockey in a women’s league and sells her switchel at the Linden Hills Farmers Market in Minneapolis. She is a walking testimony to the invigorating properties of her zesty potion.
Shrubs are concentrated, intense fruit-vinegar infusions. They are meant to be cut with sparkling water or mixed into a cocktail. Scott Dillon, an amateur mixologist, discovered shrubs in a cocktail class at the Parlour Bar in Minneapolis.
“I’d wanted to launch my own small food company and was searching for the right product,” he said. “After 20 years in sales at General Mills, I needed a new career.” It was love at first taste.
In 2014, Dillon began brewing vats of farmers market fruit with vinegar, spice and herbs. He focused on five flavors (apple ginger, pineapple habañero, strawberry lime, blueberry lemon and peach habañero) and started selling the Twisted Shrub at the Linden Hills Farmers Market last year.
Now with retail licenses in place, he’s poised for distribution to liquor stores, co-ops and grocers and has a vigorous online presence. Like Superior Switchel, the Twisted Shrub is produced at GIA Kitchen in St. Paul.
“The Twin Cities is a hub of entrepreneurial food companies,” he said. “We are an amazingly collaborative group.”
While these crafty brews are priced well above lemonade, know that switchels pack a lot of punch and shrubs are meant to be mixed (an 8-ounce bottle makes about eight to 10 drinks).
Summer is good old cocktail time. Cheers!
Superior Switchel, $10 for a 16-ounce bottle, superiorswitchel.com; St. Paul Switchel, six-pack at $45 (online), stpaulswitchel.com.
The Twisted Shrub, $12 for an 8-ounce bottle, thetwistedshrub.com.