How To Make Stupidly Alcoholic Pickles

Photo: Claire Lower

I consider myself something of a quick-pickle innovator. After all, it was I who brought you The Big Pickle, a very good pickle that is also very big. This time I’ve really outdone myself. I’ve made alcoholic pickles, and they are quite pleasing.

It is important for every artist to have a muse, and Virginia (our managing editor) is mine, particularly when it comes to cheese, cheese boards, and any sort of pickled or cured thing you might find sitting next to cheese on a cheese board. Recently, we were having a quick cheese chat, when she mentioned a jar of gin cornichons had made their way into her fridge (and her heart). Obviously, I had to know more.

These tiny “gin-tastic” cucumbers are pickled in a 2% gin solution, which provides “tasty juniper and fresh citrus notes” as well as “a fruity sharp finish.” This sounded good to me, so I decided to make my own. I (predictably) upped the gin percentage, because after a decade of drinking martinis, there is no way my Tanqueray-saturated tongue was going to notice such a small aliquot of gin.

I started out at around 11%, mixing half a cup of gin with half a cup of water and a whole cup of white wine vinegar. I also added a little sugar, a little salt, and some juniper berries. I poured the simmering mixture over some tiny onions, let that cool to room temp, and popped them in the fridge overnight. They were good, but they weren’t reading as the boozy, decadent pickles I had envisioned in my mind’s mouth. I also found myself searching for more herbs, but was (sadly) out of them, and didn’t want to walk to the store in the rain. The solution to the first issue was to up the alcohol and reduce the water, and the solution to the second was to abandon gin altogether and use aquavit—aka “angry gin”—instead.

Is it hard, being a genius? It gets lonely sometimes, but the rewards are worth it. Believe me when I tell you that water is over, and aquavit—which means “water of life”—is the pickling liquid of now, the pickling liquid of the decade, the pickling liquid of forever. This new brine of mine is half vinegar, half aquavit, and wholly wonderful. I poured it on little onions and I poured it on a sliced beet, and now I must return to the store (most likely in the rain) to buy more onions and beets.

Aquavit brings many gifts to the pickle party. Herbs is a big one. Aquavit is flavored with dill and caraway, which go great with pickles, and those flavours are already in solution. The ethanol also brings a bit of heat, but it translates into a nice snappy sensation, rather than an alcoholic burn. Those of you who enjoy maths have probably figured out that these pickles have an ABV of around 22%, but I would hope that by now I have earned your trust, in regards to both pickles and booze. (Otherwise what has all of this been for?)

What do you do with alcoholic pickles? The same thing you do with every pickle—put them on sandwiches, on snack boards, and in martinis. I’m sure some of you are about to lament the “waste” of alcohol, but whoa there, cowperson. First of all, have you heard of luxury? Do you not think your vegetables deserve to be bathed in the finer things? The booze is not lost; it is merely enhanced. Much like a shrub, this herbaceous, sweet and sour brine is a perfect companion for dirty martinis, Bloody Marys, and even a tall, cold glass of soda water. This is particularly true of aquavit beet (aquabeet) brine, my new favourite brine. To make aquavit pickles, you will need:

  • Vegetable such as a couple of small beets, a very big onion, about 40 cocktail onions, or a very large cucumber

  • 1 cup vinegar

  • 1 cup aquavit

  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries (completely optional)

Peel, slice, and otherwise prepare your vegetables. Place them in a heatproof jar or some other sealable container. Add the rest of the ingredients to a saucepan and bring the everything to a simmer, stirring briefly to make sure the sugar and salt have dissolved. Pour the hot brine over the vegetables, and loosely cover the top of the container. Let everything come to room temperature, then close the jar or container and pop it in the fridge overnight. If you wish to try a small amount of brine before committing a full cup of aquavit to a beet, just divide everything in half. This recipe scales very well.


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