For those reading this column for the first time, I have been known to harp (just a wee tad) on the subject of homemade versus store-bought drinks for awhile now. Reason being, the ingredients found in your cupboard can be fully utilized to make far superior cocktail mixers than those you find at your local supermarket.
For instance, fresh lime juice makes for a better gin gimlet than those made with Rose’s Lime Cordial. Likewise, lime and simple syrup (sugar and water) yield better results when making a margarita than bottled “margarita mix.” For me (and I assume for everyone) it is all about flavor, not convenience.
Recently, my chef at Capitol Bar (and main man/brother in arms Ryan Hembree) came to work offering a large Mason jar of switchel, a near ancient energy-boosting concoction also known as Haymaker’s Punch and made from syrup, cider vinegar, ginger and water. Consider it a primitive Coca-Cola formula as old as (quite possibly) Hippocrates.
Those basic ingredients are very convenient to assemble. Maybe not as convenient as popping the top off of an energy drink, but pretty darn convenient (see recipe).
What can you do with a switchel? For one, pour it over ice and enjoy (no alcohol needed). Add a bit of lemon or lime juice and it becomes a delicious, albeit slightly bitter iced tea. Top it off with soda water and it brightens it up like a fizz. Of course, a bit of spirit can’t hurt right? Of course not.
Mr. “Flavor Ninja” Hembree came up with a curiously satisfying and simple-to-assemble cocktail made from Woodford Reserve rye whiskey (or any premium rye whiskey), served over ice and topped off with his homemade molasses and ginger switchel topped off with a lemon wheel — super deliciousness. However, nearly any spirit would work here.
As previously noted, the flavor of a switchel is curious at first, mainly because it doesn’t contain the saccharine sweet corn syrup we are so used to in our soft drinks. Trust me; that’s a good thing. Once you take your third sip, your palate attunes to the flavor and you begin to enjoy a very unfamiliar flavor that might become your new best friend.
Ingredient-wise, a switchel is akin to an old-school energy drink. Thankfully, it doesn’t taste like baby aspirin and it has endless possibilities.
On top of the main ingredients, almost anything could be introduced that would subtly enhance its flavor — berries or mint come to mind.
Like the switchel, Kevin Hopper likes things the old-fashioned way and loves to share in the fun at Capitol Bar on State Street in Northwest Boise.
40 ounces water
4 ounces maple syrup or molasses
1 ounce apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
Grate ginger with a cheese grater and place into a cheesecloth. Squeeze out as much juice as possible into a large pitcher or Mason jar. Add vinegar, syrup or molasses and. Stir until syrup is dissolved. Chill until cold.
To serve, pour over ice and enjoy. Fresh lemon or lime juice will add a nice zip. Whiskey, gin, vodka, rum or even tequila will work well too, whatever your palate desires.