When Ely Key and Garrett Riffle first envisioned sharing their homemade switchel with the world, it wasn’t from a state-of-the-art kitchen in a warehouse in Bushwick, the 7th coolest neighborhood in the world. Rather, they thought they might jerryrig a motorhome and tour the inlands, slinging their wares from their house-on-wheels and spreading the good, vinegary gospel. But as the dream coalesced into reality, they realized that that might not be financially feasible, and they set up shop in Brooklyn, under the name Up Mountain Switchel.
Switchel catches the afternoon light with grace and elegance.
When I asked about the origins of their name, they struggled a little to define the term, to my immense delight. Rather than tossing off some pat answer, they gestured at something so ingrained in their world views that it was hard to pin down, like trying to describe the cultural differences between Chelsea and Tribeca to someone who’s never been to the city before. Let’s just say: “You’re getting into something if you’re going up mountain.”
The men behind the magic.
It’s too soon to tell if switchel is going to sweep the nation’s health food beverage aisles, like kombucha or yerba mate has, but it has found its way into delis and shops across the city, and Up Mountain does ship to a few cities elsewhere in the US. There is only one other switchel manufacturer in the country, Vermont Switchel Company, and they operate on a slightly smaller scale. Occasionally, a restaurant or bar might make their own switchel, like Montana’s TrailHouse does, although those places are few and far between. But switchel, in one iteration or another, has been a staple throughout the countryside for decades. Touting its hydrating effects, farmers used to drink it out in the field to keep their energy up, and for that matter, it does take the edge off a hangover.
If you’ve tried the switchel at Montana’s TrailHouse and found your eyes watering, don’t let that keep you from giving Up Mountain a shot. Montana’s ultra-potent switchel is a far cry from the gentle, ginger brew that these guys manufacture because Montana’s is brewed with straight vinegar, whereas Up Mountain uses purified water as well.If you’re intent on drinking switchel in a restaurant though, you can find Up Mountain at Blue Hill.
Boxing up the switchel.
With a product like switchel, and being in a neighborhood like Bushwick, it can be almost reflexive to dismiss Up Mountain as yet another artisinal food trend. But we’re fools if we say artisinal with a quick eye roll or even a slight sneer, for often it’s just a code word for love and passion. Key and Riffle and their friends aren’t working this hard so that you’ll think they’re cool: they’re doing it because they love drinking switchel, and they want you to try some.