**ATTENTION! ATTENTION! In April 2013, I did a redo of the maple-bourbon pickles in this post, version 2.0 if you will, made with Cabin Fever maple blended whiskey. This wonderful recipe can be found here: maple-whiskey pickles, version 2.0, so check it out!**
I haven’t made pickles since September. Probably because cucumbers are no longer “in season”; meaning I can still get them, but they’re far from the best quality. They’re somewhat wonky-looking for the most part. But of course, I can pick a pickle pretty good, so I decided instead of waiting for cucumber season I just went for it & picked the best damn cucumbers I could out of the offerings at the store. Why? Because I wanted to make some of these.
Bourbon pickles & maple-bourbon pickles. Inspired by the Brooklyn Brine Company’s Whiskey Sour pickles, which I first saw in Williams-Sonoma. I decided to make a jar or two of these for Jay. I’m not cheap, far from it, but paying $12.95 for 24 oz. of pickles seemed a bit… over-indulgent. Especially when I figured I could make them myself. At first he wasn’t sure how he’d feel about them, but then he had one of their pickles when he played a show at the St. Vitus Bar & raved about it, so I thought “Why not make one teensy jar of them & see?” It seemed unique enough. How bad could it be? It’s pickles + whiskey. That’s a pretty rock star pickle.
That is not actually Brooklyn, it’s San Antonio. Whatever.
I mean, dude up there just got back from the Netherlands where he performed with Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth, Napalm Death & a ton of other famous metal bands. Crazy, right?
So yeah. I had to make him something special, & this is something special. Like I said, its one rock star pickle. Not to mention the fact that it includes whiskey makes it appropriate for St. Patty’s Day too. I mean, pickles are green, whiskey reminds me of being Irish (Irish whiskey, Irish coffee, hello?) and that’s enough for me. In case you’re wondering, a Pickleback is an actual thing you can order in some bars. That name for it originated at The Bushwick Country Club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2007. It’s a shot of whiskey (from what I’ve read, it’s usually Jameson, but at The Bushwick Country Club they use Old Crow) with a pickle juice, or brine, chaser (they use McClure’s). The brine neutralizes the burn of the alcohol & the taste of the whiskey. Once I learned that, through a NYT article from almost 2 years ago, I thought the whiskey pickle idea was even more interesting. See, I’m not a whiskey girl. All I know about it is that if I’m forced to drink it in any capacity & I’m given a choice… I’ll take Jameson over Jack any damn day of the week. But other than that forget it. I’m lost. Whiskey, Rye, Bourbon, it’s all Greek to me. So I asked Jay what to use in these & he gave me a bottle of Blanton’s to use. It’s not a super high-end bourbon, yet it’s not the cheapest, so the flavor is decent. You don’t want to use cheap stuff for this, it might sounds obvious but really… the flavor is going to dictate the pickles so please don’t use gasoline-tasting whiskey just to save money. Use one that actually can be enjoyed on it’s own.
New York & pickles are synonymous it seems, especially to New Yorkers. So therefore Brooklyn has quite a history with pickles. I love Brooklyn. I spend some of my spare time looking at gorgeous pre-war apartments (that I’ll probably never actually move into) with exposed brick in Brooklyn (along with many other places like the Upper & Lower East Side, etc). I think Brooklyn is amazing (for the most part, there are a lot of shitty things about it too). I love the Brooklyn Bowl, I love the Brooklyn Brewery & I love Radegast Hall. I’ve never been to the St. Vitus Bar but from what I heard it’s sweet, I have been to Duff’s though (not impressed- seeing that “metal” chick from Fuse dancing on tables in a corset isn’t my idea of fun). And now there’s Brooklyn Brine Co. And the thing I like about Brooklyn Brine Co. is that they’re making interesting things like this & lavender asparagus, chipotle carrots & fennel beets. Not to mention their maple bourbon bread & butter pickles. Yeah, I know. Needless to say those were on Jay’s list too, so I had to make them as well (keep reading for that). So yes, I dig what they’re doing over there. But I’m confident enough that I can do it too; and not have to buy theirs.
MARILLA’S “PICKLEBACK” WHISKEY-BRINE PICKLES
Makes about 4 pints
- 8-10 small pickling cucumbers (about 3 pounds), or regular cucumbers if you’re going to slice them into chips… I usually use Kirby’s myself (just don’t use the large waxed ones!)
- 1 cup white vinegar
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup whiskey
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 4 heads fresh dill or 4 heaping teaspoons dill seeds
- 2 teaspoons pickling spice
- ½ teaspoon mustard seed
- a dash of freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon hot pepper flakes or one Serrano chili pepper, finely diced
- dash of chili powder (optional)
- 4 small cloves garlic
- Cut a thin slice from the ends of each cucumber. This prevents a “mushy” pickle, as the ends of cucumbers contain an enzyme that makes them mushy. Then slice cucumbers as you like- slices, spears or sandwich-size; or leave them whole. Place jars in canner to sterilize them and place lids in hot water to soften seal.
- Meanwhile, combine vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove hot jars from canner. Pour ⅛ cup whiskey or bourbon in each jar. Place 1 head fresh dill or 1 heaping teaspoon dill seeds, ½ teaspoon pickling spice, the mustard seed, black pepper, hot pepper flakes and 1 smashed clove of garlic into each jar; pack in cucumbers tightly.
- Pour boiling vinegar/water mixture over cucumbers to within ½ inch of rim (head space). Place lids & bands. Process 10 minutes for pint jars and 15 minutes for quart jars.
- Allow jars to sit for at least one week before opening for optimal flavor, but no one will kill you if you crack one open early.
The color changes after the processing in the water bath. Ever notice that about pickles? That they’re usually a darker army-green in the jar, whereas Kosher dills stay brighter? That all has to do with fermenting vs. processing, and the vinegar brine vs. a salty water brine. End of today’s lesson.
Because of the apple cider vinegar & whiskey, they should be a bit on the sweeter side, but not too sweet. The white vinegar, garlic, peppers & salt would make up for it. I made this recipe up based on the ingredients the Brooklyn Brine Co. lists as being in their Whiskey Sour pickles, so I am in no way saying it’s the same exact flavor or pickle- especially since I didn’t use the same type of peppers or the same brand of whiskey (they use Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Rye Whiskey). This is just my version of it. That said, they do sell a pickling kit, however I do not think it’s for their Whiskey pickles, unless they include a recipe for it in the recipe packet.
As far as the maple bourbon pickles, I just used the same recipe as above, but I added caramelized onions, ⅛ cup good quality maple syrup (added with the whiskey) and omitted the hot pepper. I also cut the cukes into “chips” with a crinkled cutter instead of making spears. I also couldn’t find decent Kirby’s so I used small “snacking” cucumbers, which are longer & thinner than Kirby’s, hence the tiny little chips I got. I also added some caramelized onions to the regular bourbon pickles, because I made more than I needed for just one jar.
As soon as these babies are opened & Jay gives me his expert opinion, I’ll come back & edit this with the reviews & results.
EDIT 3/15/12: Okay the results are in! Consensus is that they’re both “fucking awesome.” Jay favors the maple-bourbon but said they’re both equally amazing. The regular bourbon batch could’ve used a slightly bigger hit of heat, so keep that in mind. I’d go for doubling the amount of pepper flakes in the recipe above; if you’re using actual Serrano you might be fine, especially if you leave in the seeds. In the spirit of knowledge, I tried both & it’s amazing how true it is that the vinegary pickle brine & the bourbon interact in such a way that you end up without the intensity of the alcohol & without the super tang of the brine. Good luck & happy pickling!