From Local to Global, A Rural Home Brew Grows with Bolton Man’s Help
Sam Smith-Stevens, a resident of Bolton Landing, is one of the young entrepreneurs behind one of the fastest-growing natural beverages on the east coast: Up Mountain Switchel.
Once a staple of farmers in New England and upstate New York, switchel is a refreshing blend of ginger, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup.
Up Mountain Switchel contains only fresh and organic ingredients, and were it not so delicious, you could drink it for its health benefits alone.
“I don’t know if the farmers who brewed it were aware of the beneficial properties of the ingredients, but they claimed that it would cure you of whatever ailed you,” said Smith-Stevens.
Farmers drank it to refresh themselves on hot summer days, but it can also be served as a warm drink on cold winter nights and with spirits, as a cocktail.
“I drink it all the time,” said Smith-Stevens, who is one of five owner-operators of Up Mountain Switchel. “It’s the most versatile drink I know of.”
The company was founded in 2012 by one of Smith-Stevens best friends from childhood, Ely Key. Key and another founder, Garrett Riffle, began brewing the beverage on Key’s grandparents’ farm in southern Vermont.
It took about a year for them to get the recipe right, said Smith-Stevens.
“Apple cider vinegar is probably the ingredient with the most health benefits, but the taste has to be balanced with the other ingredients so that it’s not overwhelming,” said Smith-Stevens.
The brewery was moved to Brooklyn, and they now bottle 3,200 hundred gallons a week. They will have produced 100,000 bottles in 2014 alone, said Smith-Stevens.
At first, Up Mountain Switchel was sold at farmers markets and in a few stores in Brooklyn.
“We’re now in 100 stores in Brooklyn and in 20 stores in Manhattan,” said Smith-Stevens. “Once we were successful in New York, distributors came on board, and we’re now in Whole Foods supermarkets on Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. We expect to expand into New England very shortly.”
In the Lake George region, Up Mountain Switchel is sold exclusively at Dave’s Market in Bolton Landing.
The owner, David Gabriels, said it didn’t take much persuading to convince him to carry the product.
“I remembered it growing up in Altamont, outside Albany. It was called the haymaker’s drink,” said Gabriels.
Smith-Stevens said all the owner-operators “do everything,” but added that he was becoming increasingly interested in the company’s finances.
Growing up in New York, Smith-Stevens probably never expected to find a career making and marketing an agricultural-based product that was all but extinct.
“Before I became heavily involved with this, I was doing a lot of video editing, which meant sitting by myself at a computer,” he said. “I find I really like the interaction with customers, with stores, with distributors. And the only thing better than being in business for yourself is being in business with your friends.”