Keeley Susienka and Melina Lamer are constantly moving. Melina grew up outside of Denali National Park–picking wild blueberries, hiking, fishing, and soaking in the comfort of mountains that took her in and never quite let her go.
As a kid, Keeley bopped around the US with her family; her mom’s job took her to places as disparate as California and Arkansas. The two met at St. Olaf College in 2012, when Melina bummed a ride up to the cities to see Ani DiFranco play at First Ave.
Three years later, the girls started making a home in Minneapolis. They have jobs and leases and favorite local restaurants … they’re happily tied to the city, but really, they’re still moving. Melina explains, “I’m constantly going, going, going. I’m always trying something new, or trying to get better at what I’m already working on.”
Spending half of her time working at Whole Foods, and the other half at Life Time Athletic, she’s recently turned her interests in fitness and nutrition into a side project and passion. She and Keeley have started brewing Switchel. I hadn’t heard of it until I bumped into the ladies’ Kickstarter campaign a few weeks ago. Melina nods and smiles, “I vaguely remember reading about Switchel in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book when I was a kid. I think they called it a ginger beverage?”
In the 17th century, farmers would drink “haymaker’s punch” at harvest time. The original recipe included blackstrap molasses for sweetness, apple cider vinegar for flavoring and fermentation, and ginger for a little bit of warmth. This combination allowed farmers to drink in large quantities, and stay hydrated on hot summer days. Melina explains, “It basically functions as an electrolyte booster, pH alkalizer, and stomach soother.” It’s a delicious, healthy, 17th century Gatorade.
After college, Melina spent a year cooking, building gardens with elementary schoolers, and researching with Food Corps in New Britain, Connecticut. She learned a bit more about Switchel, brought her interest in brewing to Minneapolis, and pitched her business plan to Keeley.
“I really loved the idea, so I started helping Melina do recipe tests in our kitchen. We needed to find a good balance of flavors … we tried a few different kinds of Switchel, and we wanted to make sure the ginger wouldn’t kick you in the face.”
Mixing local, organic, unpasteurized honey with apple cider vinegar, organic ginger, and a blend of spices, the girls hit on a winning recipe after countless kitchen experiments. They’ve sent their favorite blend to a food scientist for testing and approvals, and they’ve already been offered a booth at the Linden Hills Farmer’s Market. They hope to set up shop beginning in May.
Sitting with Keeley and Melina and chatting about their plans, I realize I have very little concept of what the drink actually tastes like!
“Is it like Ginger Beer?”
“We’ve had friends tell us it’s spicy, crisp, smooth, refreshing, fizzy, fruity… ” Melina and Keeley laugh and puzzle over how to describe it. “You’ll have to taste it for yourself!”
Luckily, we’ll get to.With their Kickstarter fully funded, they’re ready to get moving at farmers’ markets and beyond. They’re starting out small, but they’re also hoping to squeeze into local Co-Ops and grocery stores later on. We’ll stay tuned.