This is what I imagine cocktail creation looks like.
Especially when it comes to a new, unique ingredient that seems hard to incorporate.
Yup. And now it’s being canned for the general public to drink.
To many this may seem odd and quaint. Even if you love pickles you may raise an eyebrow at brine marketed as a beverage. As for me, I already know the power of drinking vinegar in the form of shrubs (sugar + fruit + vinegar) by itself or in a cocktail, so drinking brine by itself does not seem far off.
It helps to have a friend who is in the canning business, because when this local pickle company approached my friend to can their brine, I got excited because that means I get to try it before it’s on the market.
For the first time ever, I feel hip as s***!
But can this tasty, savory and salty drink find its way into a cocktail recipe? That’s what I’m really curious about today.
First, what is pickle brine?
It’s the salty liquid that cucumbers are kept in to eventually turn into pickles. The brine has salt and other spices. In this case, this canned brine is made of:
- mustard seed
- chili peppers
Standard pickling spices. But this is not too salty nor spicy. A refreshing combination of sour and delicious. There are health benefits of drinking pickle juice, apparently. They act as electrolytes in a way, so good for hangovers! Even if you are not hungover, this packs a punch that will certainly wake you up!
It’s delicious with ice to help cut the saltiness. I bet even with some soda water and lemon it will be really refreshing.
But what about cocktails?!
Salty and spicy (not heat spicy but savory spicy) are not common flavor profiles in cocktails. I have always been attracted to drinks that can use savory ingredients, like this yellow bell pepper drink. I was very curious and wanted to experiment with this brine and see how it pairs well with certain alcohols.
Pour a 1:1 serving of this craft pickle brine with a different base liquor or liqueur. See what goes well together. Write thoughts down.
I imagine this is how one builds a cocktail recipe. Seeing what two ingredients can work well together and then build it from there.
The base liquors I used were:
- local craft gin (a more floral, sweet one)
- Navy Strength gin (a more smooth, clean and crisp gin)
- Blanco tequila
- Anejo tequila
- a smoky scotch
The liqueurs I used were:
- Cointreau (a high quality triple sec)
- Marachino (cherry liqueur)
- Fernet Branca (a medicinal, herbal liqueur, with a minty, anise flavor profile)
- Campari (a bitter, orangey apertitif)
- Suze (a French, bitter, gentian, floral liqueur, like Campari but not as sweet)
My friend and roommate helped me out. We rated how much we liked the combination of pickle brine and the alcohol out of 5. 5 being amazing and 0 being I want to throw up. Then we added any thoughts we had.
What were the results?
Reminder: we rated this out of 5. When we began we didn’t have anything to compare the tastes against, so when we gave the Cointreau a 3 out of 5 and we used that as a baseline: we thought it was fine, but not great, but definitely doable. Only once did someone go back and change their score once they had a few other combinations to compare.
|Cointreau||3 out of 5. Not as sweet as [friend] says it is. It works together.||3 out of 5||3 out of 5, on the sweeter side.|
|Marachino||3.5 out of 5. Flavors opposing one another, but can work if mixed properly. I like the sweetness.||1 out of 5||3.5 out of 5. Should have more brine so maraschino doesn’t outshine, like it is now. Less sweet than Cointreau|
|Fernet Branca||0 out of 5. Will not finish. I’m AMAZED at how bad this combination is.||0 out of 5. Use for torture.||Negative 12 out of 5.|
|Campari||2 out of 5. Has potential, though. Needs fresh herbs in the mix! Like basil, sage, rosemary. Honey needed. Sweet vermouth or soda water to cut it.||1 out of 5||1 out of 5|
|Suze||4 out of 5. Honey would be a great addition.||3 out of 5.||3 out of 5. Want more sweetness added.|
|Floral Gin||3 out of 5. It works. Much better cooled down with ice.||4 out of 4. This plus grapefruit would be good perhaps.||4 out of 5. This gin with basil and agave is an idea.|
|Navy Strength Gin||2 out of 5. Saltiness comes out WAY too much here.||3 out of 5. Needs citrus.||1.5 out of 5. Too salty. This ruined a perfectly good gin.|
|Tequila Blanco||4 out of 5.||4.5 out of 5. Needs orange.||4.5 out of 5. Needs more tequila. Would be great in margarita.|
|Tequila Anejo||4.5 out of 5. Smooth. Orange and grapefruit would be great. Bell pepper!||5 out of 5!||5 out of 5. Awesome! With lime would be great.|
|Mezcal||3 out of 5 (usually loves mezcal). Would be great with some more spice like chipotle. A spicy pepper.||3.5 out of 5. Needs more fresh herbs.||1.5 out of 5 (usually doesn’t like mescal)|
|Rye||2.5 out of 5. Lots of saltiness again, like the Navy Strength.||2 out of 5.||3.5 out of 5. Brings out the sweetness of the rye.|
|Scotch (Laphroaig)||3 out of 5. Better than rye. This is good but it’s a mystery! Workable, but totally unsure. Can’t put finger on it.||2.5 out of 5. Reminds me of grilled pickles.||2 out of 5. Better than the mescal. Like level of smokiness.|
Tequila seems to be the alcohol of choice. The three kinds all scored pretty highly, with the anejo (golden) tequila scoring the best among the three of us. So, if we were going to think of creating a cocktail using pickle brine, I would start with aged tequila.
The floral gin worked very well. I was actually surprised the Navy Strength gin did not do well at all, but we thought about it and realized that without the floral and herbal flavors in the Navy Strength, the saltiness dominated and had nothing to balance it out.
The Suze was the biggest surprise among the three of us. It worked very well.
The Fernet Branca was so unbelievably gross that I was actually amazed. Fernet is one of my favorite liqueurs (look up the recipes for a Toronto or the Woodsman and you’ll fall in love with it, or do what the Argentinians do and add Fernet to Coke). Yet we were overwhelmed with a crappy minty toothpaste flavor that nearly killed us. No one could finish their tiny 1/2 oz. tasting glass.
Sweet helps counteract the saltiness, so Cointreau and Marachino fared pretty well.
But these were just three people’s thoughts.
A good cocktail is the combination of not just some ingredients, but the measurements, the dilution, shaken or stirred, etc. etc. In this experiment we just added 1/4 oz. pickle brine with 1/4 oz. of one other ingredient, and that’s it. This is just the first step of creating a recipe.
First, when we think of popular cocktails that already contain a saltiness/pickle brine to it, what do we think of? Dirty Martinis and a Bloody Mary! For a Dirty Martini, this is no contest: don’t use that dumb, bland olive juice and use some craft pickle brine instead!
So what about new ideas? The quickest idea we can easily come up with from this experiment is adding pickle brine to a margarita. Here is our rational:
- Tequila paired the best with pickle brine.
- Triple Sec paired very well with the pickle brine.
- Margaritas often have a salted rim, so adding salt to the equation makes sense.
There are also many other 1:1 combinations we didn’t try. What about with different citrus juices? Bitters?! We never tried it with rum or pisco or vodka or sherry. There are still many pairings we should test.
Researching flavor profiles is also important. Let’s break down the actual ingredients in brine and see what else they can pair well with (specifically with ingredients one generally would or may potentially find in a cocktail). With the help of the trusty Food Bible, we can look at what flavors/ingredients go well with the pickle brine ingredients.
Apples, avocados, beets, chili peppers, coriander, cucumbers, dill, fruits, gingerbread, honey, lemon juice, mint esp. peppermint, parsley, pepper, salt, tarragon, tomatoes, vinegar (balsamic, red wine, white wine), walnuts
Almonds, basil, beets, caraway seeds, cayenne, chili peppers, chives, cilantro, coriander, fennel, ginger, lemon, lemon grass, lime, mustard, parsley, pepper, rosemary, saffron, sage, salt, sugar, tarragon, thyme, vinegar, white wine
Apples, carrots, cookies, coriander, desserts, fruit, garlic, juniper berries, lavender, parsley, thyme, tomatoes
Avocado, bananas, basil, cayenne, chocolate, cilantro, cinnamon, coconut, coriander, fennel, fruit esp. citrus, garlic, ginger, lemon, lemongrass, lime, mangoes, marjoram, mole sauces, mustard, olives, parsley, pineapple, rosemary, saffron, sweet vegetables (beets, carrots, corn), thyme, tomatoes, verbena, vinegar
Avocado, basil, beets, carrots, cilantro, coriander, cucumbers, garlic, horseradish, lemon balm, lemon, thyme, mint, mustard, parsley, pickles, squash, tomato, vegetables
Allspice, anise, apples, basil, cardamom, carrots, cayenne, chili peppers, cilantro, cinnamon, citrus, cloves, coconut, corn, desserts, fennel, fruits esp. autumn and fried, garlic, ginger, gingerbread, grapefruit, mint, nutmeg, nuts, orange, peppercorn, pickles, plums, quince, saffron, sugar, tomato, turmeric
And the Flavor Bible even has an entry for Saltiness, but the things that are paired with it that ALSO appear in cocktails is very short (see below), yet I know that most things can go well with salt. For example, avocados are not on the list
Bacon, capers, lemons (preserved), pickles, nuts.
There are many more flavors that compliment the ingredients above, but the ones listed are the ones I think can be found in a cocktail.
Now what? I can count the number of times an ingredient pops up while not counting if one of the ingredients is already part of the brine. From there, one could surmise that the more times an ingredient matches with one of the brine ingredients, the better the overall brine will pair with the new one.
Which ingredients show up more than once?
Lemon – 5 times if you include the preserved lemons
Parsley – 5 times
Tomatoes – 5 times
Cilantro – 4 times
Thyme – 4 times
Basil – 4 times
Apples – 3 times
Beets – 3 times
Avocados – 3 times
Ginger – 3 times (4 if you count gingerbread)
So does that mean I can make an awesome pickle brine cocktail using beets? Well, hold on, you may say. Beets don’t match with coriander, caraway and chili peppers!! Does that mean it won’t work overall??!?
I don’t know! That’s for the next experiment. The point is we have some new ingredients to use in a brine based cocktail.
I want to revisit this and come up with a cocktail using pickle brine. Expect a follow-up post. In the meantime, enjoy a cocktail recipe that already exists that uses pickle brine. Where did this come from? On the can itself! It was created by the minds in one of D.C.’s best cocktail bars, Two Birds One Stone.
Special thanks to Gordy’s for making awesome products. I’m excited to see the reception this gets when it comes out on the market. Check them out at http://www.gordyspicklejar.com/