Spotted in Jewish DC: Sip City

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.


Nikki and Josie, Sip City Co-Owners

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 or Union Market, or WIN A CASE at our Jewish People of the YEAR Celebration! You get 2 raffle ticket when you sign up for the party, and will be automatically entered to win Sip City switchel, along with tons of other great prizes.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Spotted in Jewish DC – One Eight Distilling

Whiskey lovers rejoice!

Recently #SpottedinJewishDC is one of the finest whiskey, vodka, and gin distilleries around – One Eight Distilling. Pour yourself a tall gin and tonic (or favorite drink of your choosing) and enjoy this 1:1 interview with One Eight’s co-founder, Alex Laufer, who left a thriving career in biotechnology to open the distillery.

Allie: When you were growing up, what did you dream you’d do as an adult?20161103_OneEight5887.jpg

Alex: From an early age I loved exploring nature (mucking about a salt marsh, checking out the creepy crawlies under a log in the forest, collecting shells), and dreamed I’d be a biologist when I grew up.

Allie: What is your favorite drink? Do you get to be a “taste-tester” for One Eight?

Alex: Very hard to pick one favorite drink. I enjoy many spirits, cocktails, beers, wines, ciders, etc. For cocktails, I tend to enjoy those that are balanced, yet are boozy, and often have bitter elements; such as a Negroni, Old-Fashioned, or Martini. All of the core staff members at One Eight are taste-testers. Whether we are making the “cuts” on the still run itself, tasting barrel pulls for blends and finishes, proof samples, or creative cocktails, the diversity of pallets and opinions leads to a better final product.

Pepsi & Alex Handshake_Lands End Farm_Sandi Moynihan.jpgAllie:  How did you come up with the idea to open One Eight Distilling? And also, where does the name come from?

Alex: One Eight’s co-founder, Sandy Wood, had the inspiration to open the distillery. It had come from discussions with another friend, a nagging desire to create a business, and early visits to other distilleries in the region. Sandy wrote a lengthy proposal email to me, asking me to partner with him and come on board as Head Distiller. After discussions with my family I agreed, and we dove in!

The name was also Sandy’s inspiration; as an attorney by training, he is familiar with our Constitution.  One Eight refers to Article One, Section 8, which- amongst several provisions-calls for the formation of the Nation’s capital. For us, One Eight demonstrates our pride to be crafting spirits here in Washington DC. I also love that One Eight could read as 18 or Chai (life in Hebrew).

1F6A8063.jpgAllie: Tell us the best – and most challenging – part of running your own distillery?

Alex: Crafting our spirits is my favorite part of the business. Many aspects of this part of the job are physically demanding and can become routine, but it is extremely satisfying when we have bottled 300 cases or filled 10 new barrels with whiskey for the future.

I also enjoy sharing our work with others, from giving a tasting at a local liquor store, or making cocktails with our spirits for friends and family at home.

Allie: Any new products coming out this year that you’re particularly excited about?

Alex: We released our Rock Creek Bourbon in September, and have been floored by the amazing reception it has been receiving. Our next release will be a collection of four beer-projects we have been working on for some time. For three of the spirits, we collaborated with local breweries, DC Brau and Hellbender. Stay tuned for a release next month!

Allie: Sounds like you’re pretty busy running a distillery, launching new products, and being a DC whiskey connoisseur…what do you like to do for fun outside of work?

Alex: First and foremost, outside of work, I love to spend time with my family; my wife, Jen and sons Jonas (12) and Abe (10). I enjoy cooking for them at home, taking time for hikes, bike rides, camping, or the beach and attending the boys’ various baseball games, swim meets and concerts.

Alex and the team at Tales of the Cocktail.png

Allie: How do you connect to Jewish life in DC?

Alex: My family and I are members at Tifereth Israel on 16th St. It is a lovely, diverse congregation with great local history (last year marked TI’s centennial), and an amazing leader in Rabbi Siedel. The congregation is very active, and has provided us with meaningful opportunities to cook and serve food at local shelters.

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday and how do you celebrate it?

Alex: Tough to pick just one, as TI can really party for Purim and Simchat Torah!  But, honestly, I love the Passover seder the most. We combine elements from seders Jen and I attended growing up and are making our own tradition. We often host family and friends, so I can cook several of the traditional dishes (except Jen makes the best matzah ball soup!).

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Jewish Girl of the Week – Katie Balloons

How did you become a balloon artist?
I have been working in the balloon industry since I was 22. At that time in my life, I was determined that 100% of my income be earned through entertainment. Simply put, if the gig paid a good wage and allowed me to engage peoples’ emotions, I aggressively pursued it.  Dinner theater, historical reenactments, character team building, educational theater, and basic balloon twisting paid my bills in 2007. I had been making balloons at restaurants once a week for a few months working for Richmond, VA Balloon Artist Mike Klee when he coerced me to attend a balloon convention called “Twist & Shout.” In order to take part in the convention I had to resign from one of my acting jobs, but Mike promised it would be worth it! I’ll never forget the moments of clarity I experienced when I walked in the lobby of the Twist & Shout hotel. I had never seen large scale balloons sculptures and decor. No one told me that balloons had the potential to be so beautiful! It became clear in those first few minutes that professional ballooning was my calling–it combined my three greatest strengths: small business skills, visual artistry, and entertainment. My inspiration was ignited, and I knew ballooning would be an industry in which I would rapidly advance. I actually said to myself, “In 5 years or less, I shall conquer this business.” I put on my cutest skirt, my most charming attitude, and went to work.


What kind of experiences have you had due to your career in ballooning?
It’s my balloon business that brought me to D.C. via Richmond in 2008. I love it here. It’s wonderful to work for myself and create a lifestyle that lends itself to creative expression and happiness. Right before my move to DC, I lived and worked in China for 2 months. I performed my show in which I climb INSIDE of a giant balloon on amphitheater style stages that I shared with AMAZING artists from all over the world. I was hired for the project with my Israeli lover and business partner. We split up after the tour but it sure was a lovely experience to share with a boyfriend! Last year I became a star on a 6 part reality TV series called ‘The Unpoppables.’ I lived in sunny Los Angeles for 4 months where I learned what it means to be a television personality. The show aired on the major cable network TLC and averaged 1.5 million viewers weekly. There are still clips online, I’m sure. Oh, and just last week I made balloon decor at the White House where I was lucky enough to meet Bo (the Obamas’ adorable dog!) My career in balloons has brought so much light into my life. I have developed a professional and social identity that gives me the platform to speak my brand of positivity into the universe. I am truly blessed and I thank G-d daily for my great fortune.

What activities do you enjoy, besides ballooning?
Playing with my ferret, riding my bicycle, and strengthening my connectivity within my communities.

How do you relate to the Jewish community?
I grew up in a town where many people had never even met a Jew! To make matters worse, I was not raised in an observant home–NOT AT ALL. Like the title of that classic book, I started “Living a Jewish Life” when I was 19. I have actively pursued my understanding of our heritage but not by way of Judaism 101 or Hebrew classes. Instead, I have learned by befriending and dating Jews, asking a lot of questions, attending shul, and observing holidays. Through exposure and a sincere desire to learn, I feel like I’ve grown into a modern Jewish woman…which is exactly what I am. Though I am currently single, I truly hope to partner with a Jewish man to share home and family with.

What are your objectives in business and life?
The Katie Balloons mission statement is to “Generate as many smiles as possible.” I try, in everything I do, to be a conductor of positive energy. I want to be present in this moment. I want to be one of the young people that shapes the future.

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