Putting switchel on the map: Up Mountain Switchel diversifies gut health beverage space

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Co-founders Ely Key and Garrett Riffle started making switchel out of Key's grandparents' barn in Vermont.
Co-founders Ely Key and Garrett Riffle started making switchel out of Key's grandparents' barn in Vermont.
Up Mountain Switchel, a six-year-old beverage company started in Vermont is continuing its path of reinvigorating a heritage recipe with its most recent product launch, Original Swizzle, a carbonated switchel drink that uses fresh ginger root, Vermont maple syrup and raw apple cider vinegar.
Up Mountain Switchels' newest product: Original Swizzle, a carbonated switchel drink

“We’ve been wanting to make a carbonated version since the early days and the response has been awesome,”​ Key said.

Co-founder Ely Key was introduced to switchel by his dad growing up in Vermont, where the drink is well known along with its history dating back to the 1700s. The name ‘Swizzle’ is the colloquial name field workers from the 18th​ century gave the drink, according to the company.

To bring its products into the 21st​ century, the company had to jump through a number of hoops to get its product to market including retrofitting an old soup factory and investing in new processing equipment that can process fresh whole 

food items like organic ginger root.

“Your traditional beverage production line it’s not really meant to handle fresh whole ingredients, it’s more set up to for liquid or syrups,”​ Key said.

It took a lot of R&D and investment in the right kind of equipment to get the recipe perfected for its original range, which can be be described as “tart, effervescent, and not overly sweet”.

In the very beginning, the company sold its products at farmer markets and out of the back of their truck to fine tune its product formulation based on consumer feedback, according to Key. 

Up Mountain Switchel’s Original Swizzle will be available in the natural and food service channels through UNFI, KeHE, Dora’s Naturals, Associated Buyers, Vermont Roots, Bounty Bev, Flood Independent Distribution and Gourmet Merchants International starting Memorial Day 2017.

Up Mountain Switchel original core line

The new Original Swizzle is packaged in 12-ounce recyclable glass bottles, aluminum cans for a suggested retail price of $3.99 per 12-ounce unit, and is also available in kegs. Up Mountain Swizzle (like all Up Mountain Switchel products) is naturally shelf stable without preservatives, according to the company.

Consumers follow their gut

On paper, Up Mountain Switchel has all the makings of a trendy beverage company. As a ‘farm-to-bottle’ Vermont company that started producing and bottling its switchel drinks out of a barn using locally-sourced ingredients and expanding to Brooklyn soon thereafter, the company may seem like it’s for a niche audience, but its appeal is much broader than that, according to Key.

“Switchel is a really versatile drink, and I think we owe the success we’ve had to how versatile it is,”​ he said.

Up Mountain Switchel, fits “right in the middle”​ of the gut health beverage space, Key added, occupied by a bevy of kombucha brands and drinking vinegars.

Consumer interest in gut health products has exploded – Innova Market Insights reported that 19% of functional drink launches in 2017 had a digestive or gut health claim.

According to Imbibe marketing manager, Ilana Orlofsky, this trend will continue to grow in the future led by ingredients that support digestive health, namely fiber, probiotics, ginger, and apple cider vinegar.

Up Mountain Switchel has built its following through independent retailers and will continue to expand into more stores within the natural channel, targeting a distribution of footprint of 1,000 stores by the end of 2018.

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