A few weeks ago, I celebrated Shabbat with a yoga mat, a vegan rice bowl, and a tall glass of switchel.
This Friday night experience was nourished by OneTable, and hosted by GatherDC’s very own blogger – Judith Rontal! It was, in a word, “namastastic”. (Yes, that’s a word I just made up.)
One of the things that made it so awesome, was the drink that accompanied it all, switchel. This nourishing, apple cider vinegar and ginger based drink made my tummy and taste buds happy – all at once. Turns out, the company – Sip City – behind this delicious beverage, was founded and is owned by a young, Jewish woman living in DC – Nikki Blank, and her business partner Josie. Lucky for me, I got the chance to grab coffee with Nikki at GatherDC’s brand new townhouse where we chatted all things switchel. Read on!
…And yes, it’s kosher for Passover.
Allie: What is switchel?
Nikki: Switchel is an apple cider vinegar and ginger based drink that’s been around since 1700s. You can trace roots from ancient Greece to U.S. congressmen who used to spike it with rum.
Switchel is made of apple cider vinegar, ginger, citrus, honey, and water. We [my Sip City partner Josie and I] played around with ingredients to come up with the different flavors to update them. Switchel can be used as a refreshing beverage, pre- and post-workout drink, a 3pm slumpbuster, a hangover cure, a cocktail mixer, a salad dressing, and even a chicken marinade.
I also have a lot of friends who don’t drink alcohol, and switchel is the perfect cocktail alternative that’s not just soda or a sugary juice. It’s an inclusive, versatile drink that can work for everyone.
Allie: What inspired you to start Sip City?
Nikki: I’ve been making drink concoctions in my kitchen for years to help relieve some of my stomach issues. I was burning my own kombucha – which was really tedious, and then buying my own kombucha – which was expensive. I thought, there had to be a better way to do this. I came across switchel on a blog, and started playing around with recipes to make it taste great. Then, I started selling my drinks under the table at work.
When I moved to DC [from Boston] this past June, I realized there was nothing that tasted as good as my switchel on market. I also noticed how popular kombucha and these kinds of drinks were getting, so it was a collision of lots of great things happening all at once.
Allie: What is your favorite Sip City switchel flavor?
Nikki: my favorite is “The Boston” – it’s got turmeric, black pepper, cayenne, and cinnamon. It’s so, so good in a spicy margarita, or warmed up on a cold day.
Allie: What new flavors are you working on now?
Nikki: We’re working on some summer flavors with grapefruit and tart cherry. The other day, I juiced a cucumber and threw it into switchel, and realized it was basically a drinkable pickle. I also want to do a Tokyo-themed switchel with green tea yuzu.
Allie: Why Tokyo?
Nikkie: My family lives in Tokyo! My dad got transferred 10 years ago there for his job and my parents moved there full time after I went to college. I try to go once or twice a year…there’s actually a pretty cool jewish scene in tokyo.
Allie: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while starting your own business as a woman in DC?
Nikki: I’m so new to this industry and not sure how it works – the rhythm and pacing of it all. It’s hard to determine what success is because everyday is super different.
There’s also an education gap. People don’t know what switchel is, so we have to teach them what it is, and that vinegar can be palatable. Getting people to try it is a challenge. Once they do, they love it.
It’s also a very male dominated industry. In DC, we’re definitely seeing a women-led movement in food and food innovation, which is very rare. [My business partner and I] are trying to break down these gender barriers in food.
Allie: What advice do you have for others interested in starting their own business?
Nikki: Go for it! Make sure you have a good support system in place – friends and family who will financially and emotionally support you. You can always start a small business on the side, and grow it while working a full-time job. Just make sure you are 100% invested in what you are doing, and realize it will be a 24/7 endeavor that never ends. You have to be passionate about it and ready to change your life. Because your life will change.
Allie: What is your dream for the future of Sip City?
Nikki: To have people talking about switchel in the same way they talk about kombucha. I want to have people all over the country drinking switchel, and for people to be more mindful about what they drink throughout the day. And for switchel to be be lasting, not just a trend.
GatherDC Readers: You can buy Sip City drinks at Glen’s, Union Market, or Whole Foods Market in Navy Yard!