Pickles are a polarizing food. Like cilantro and Keanu Reeves movies, you either love them or you hate them. There is no such thing as lukewarm feelings towards pickles. I happen to be pro-pickle (and pro-Keanu and cilantro, if anyone’s keeping score), so when the folks at Grillo’s Pickles sent me a recipe for pickle-based gin and tonic, I was suddenly very thirsty.
I ended up liking the cocktail so much, I went searching for more pickle-based drinks. What I found is that pickle brine works best with clear spirits (gin and vodka), which makes sense considering many classic gin/vodka cocktails have a briny element (dirty martini, bloody mary, oyster shooter…). But pickles can also work in a very limited number of whiskey based cocktails. Do not try to make a pickle brine Old Fashioned. It is not good. But a whiskey sour with pickle juice? That’s the jam.
So here are three classic cocktails that have been given the pickle treatment. For the cocktails below, I used gin and vodka from Jackson Hole Still Works, out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And for the whiskey sour, I used Hellbender Bourbon, out of Decatur, Georgia.
This recipe comes from Grillo’s Pickles and essentially takes your standard gin and tonic and adds a savory element by adding pickle brine. It’s the kind of drink that grows on you as you make your way through the glass. At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but the saltiness of the brine kept me coming back for more. With any gin and tonic, so much depends on the tonic water. For my money, you can’t beat Fever Tree.
2 oz. Great Grey gin
.5 oz. Grillo’s Italian Dill Chips pickle brine (or whatever you have in the fridge)
3 oz. tonic water
Directions: Fill a glass with ice and add all the ingredients. Stir and garnish with a pickle wheel. A squeeze of lemon doesn’t hurt things either.
Raise your hand if you like dirty martinis. Everyone’s hand up? Good. We’re on the same page. This is a natural twist on the standard dirty dirty, swapping the olive brine out for pickle brine. It’s salty and delicious.
4.5 oz. Highwater vodka (or gin if that’s your thing)
1.5 oz. pickle juice
Dash of dry vermouth
Directions: Fill a mixing glass with ice and add all the ingredients. Stir and strain into a martini glass.
The Whiskey Sour is a fairly straight forward cocktail that marries bourbon with the give-and-take sweet and sour combo of lemon juice and simple syrup. The “pickle back” is a not-quite-classic combo of straight whiskey with a pickle juice chaser. This cocktail marries those two beverages, but also adds a shot of hot sauce to give the drink a note of caliente.
2 oz. bourbon
.75 oz. lemon juice
.5 oz. pickle juice
.5 oz. simple syrup or honey
Dash of hot sauce
Directions: Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake like crazy and strain into a cocktail glass. I’ve seen some people add a dash of Old Bay or cinnamon to the top of the cocktail. Definitely garnish with a tiny pickle.