Switch to Switchel

Old is new again—again

The world needs another energy drink like it needs a longer presidential election campaign. But hold on. Sisters Switchel is different.

A switchel, I learned, is an ancient beverage made with vinegar, water and a sweetener. The story goes that switchel was created by ancient (rhyming?) mariners who added vinegar as a kind of antiseptic to make water potable. The sweetener and sometimes ginger came in to make it drinkable. Sailors passed their beverage on to landlubbers in colonial America, particularly farmers who developed a taste for the beverage during harvest, where it became known as haymaker’s punch.

Anyway, North Bay cycling friends Brenda Lyons and Melanie Larson developed an interest in switchel. Lyons was a professional mountain bike racer and is now a yoga instructor, while Larson is a dietician for Kaiser. The two friends wanted to start a business together. Lyons heard about a Vermont company called Up Mountain, switchel made with apple cider, ginger and maple syrup. Turns out the combination of ingredients in switchel is a great pre- and post-exercise beverage that isn’t laced with the sugar, dye and other nasty stuff that taints many popular energy drinks.

The duo started experimenting with their own recipe and found they liked the taste of honey over maple syrup. Thus was Sisters Switchel born. It’s a decidedly local beverage: it’s bottled in Petaluma; the glass comes from a Windsor company; the apple cider comes from Manzana in Graton; and the honey comes from Gipson’s Golden in Santa Rosa. The ginger comes from somewhere far away where they grow ginger.

Each of the three ingredients is healthful on its own, but combined they’re even better, says Lyons. She says it’s naturally energizing. “You don’t have to be an athlete to get the benefits and digestive support,” she says.

It’s good stuff—sweet but not overly so. I like it as a thirst quencher after exercise. Larson and Lyons have been at work on the product for 18 months, and the beverage is just reaching market now. Currently, Sisters Swichel is available at Willibees Wine & Spirits in Santa Rosa and Petaluma and Petaluma Market where it goes for $3.99 a bottle.