Spice Up Your Pickle Brine With A Splash Of Whiskey

The marriage of whiskey and pickle brine was once reserved for daring souls in the form of the infamous pickleback shot. But the combination is no longer confined to the realm of late-night bar rituals, and the duo has evolved into a culinary trend. The transition from whiskey's robust warmth to the cool embrace of pickles is a pleasant sensory experience, after all. Since the liquor's characteristics can be employed in support of a range of pickles, as well, there's no reason they should be paired exclusively with spirited beverages.

The alcohol's sweet notes of caramel, along with the slight, grain-derived spiciness inherent in whiskey, offer a counterpoint to the bracing brininess of pickles – creating a complementary fusion of oddly harmonious flavors. There are two ways of infusing whiskey's bite into your pickles. One is a bit more laborious and subtle, while the other is easy, breezy ... and boozy.

To preserve the essence of the whiskey while minimizing the alcohol content, you may prefer to add the spirit during a brine's heating phase. This ensures the alcohol cooks off, leaving only the intricate flavors that enhance the pickle's taste. For those who want to jump right in, though, whiskey can also be added directly to store-bought pickles. Start small by adding roughly a tablespoon per large container, and allowing it to spread throughout the jar for a day or so (as more whiskey can always be added if the flavor isn't strong enough for your taste).

Pick your pickle poison

Now that we've established the art of whiskey and pickle fusion extends beyond the bar, it's time to delve into the realm of culinary creativity. Just as different wines complement specific dishes, various whiskeys can enhance a diverse array of pickle styles.

Bourbon makes for a natural pickle pairing with its rich and caramel-infused notes. Its sweetness accentuates the sharp and aggressive flavors in dill pickles (such as garlic and mustard seed) creating a delightful interplay. It's likely why bourbon — Old Crow, to be precise — was the go-to whiskey for the original pickleback (where it was served alongside a matching shot glass filled with pickle juice).

For those favoring the sweet, tangy bite of bread-and-butter pickles, rye whiskey emerges as a prime companion. The robust and peppery nature of rye provides a bold counterpoint to the warmly-spiced undertones of the pickles, creating a beautiful balance. These booze-filled bread-and-butter pickles will bring acid and whiskey warmth when layered over a grilled bratwurst or kielbasa.

Don't think you have to stop after adding a slug of whiskey to your pickles, though. There's no shortage of vibrant ingredients that can stand toe-to-toe with these two big flavors. If you're a bit of a heat seeker, consider a splash of hot sauce or a dash of cayenne pepper. Or, for a bit of fruit, consider sliding in a peel of orange or lemon rind, as citrus pairs beautifully with both pickles and whiskey.