Divine Brine

A splash of pickle (or onion, or olive) juice makes for mouth-puckering, savory, irresistible cocktails.

Wanna tart up your cocktails? Sure, you can fish dill spears out of the jar, strain out the pickling spices and add the vinegar-based liquid remaining to your cocktail shaker. But now there’s an easier way. Washington, D.C.-based Gordy’s Pickle Jar recently released Fine Brine, the first cocktail brine in a can. Gordy’s co-owner Sarah Gordon says the company has always encouraged its customers to repurpose brine and treat it as an ingredient in its own right. “It’s literally a burst of acid and flavor all in one that brightens cocktails and dishes in a very subtle, balanced way,” she says. “It rounds out cocktails and cooking recipes similar to how a pinch of salt does.” She adds that brine boasts an almost magical quality of tempering bitterness and sweetness, and ramping up citrus notes. “If a drink is too sweet or syrup, a couple of dashes of brine will round it out.”

Of course, there are other brines besides those from cucumber pickles – namely those made from curing olives, pearl onions and even sauerkraut. Bartenders are taking the ingredient way beyond the Pickleback in a bevy of salty, sour sips.

One Block Street cocktail recipe - Brine cocktails

One Block Street

Recipe courtesy of Adam Bernbach, 2 Birds 1 Stone, Washington, D.C.

Bernbach uses locally-made Gordy’s Fine Brine for this riff on a gin sour. “On a basic level, [brine] adds a good deal of body (that’s why I recommend being judicious with the sugar) and a nice amount of complexity,” he notes. “Moreover, it’s something unexpected and, if incorporated well, that’s a really enjoyable thing.” You can buy Gordy’s Fine Brine on gordyspicklejar.com.

  • 1 ½ oz. Beefeater or Ford’s Gin
  • 1 oz. Gordy’s Fine Brine
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • ¼ oz. simple syrup
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • Lime wheel, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with the lime wheel.

Innuendo cocktail recipe - Brine cocktails


Recipe courtesy of Dan Searing, Room 11, Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Jeff Martin.

In this Vodka Martini / Vodka Sour mash-up, a hefty pour of Gordy’s Fine Brine is tempered with the softness and smoothness of a potato vodka, and a complex dry vermouth.

  • 1 ½ oz. Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka
  • ¾ oz. Vya Whisper Dry Vermouth
  • ¾ oz. Gordy’s Fine Brine
  • ½ oz. lemon juice
  • ¼ oz. rich simple syrup (2:1 ratio of sugar to water)
  • Lemon peel, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon peel.

Dirty Martini cocktail recipe - Brine cocktails

Dirty Martini

Recipe courtesy of Loyal Nine, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Lead bartender Fred Yarm believes his cabbage-based brine pairs swimmingly with tequila’s vegetal notes and affinity for saltiness. “The sauerkraut brine adds a bright vegetal note that ties together the herbal elements in spirits and vermouths, as well as a savory aspect to make those notes blossom,” he explains. “That savory part also helps the drink pair better with food.” Try this drink alongside (what else?) some bratwurst.

  • 2 oz. Greylock Gin
  • ¾ oz. sauerkraut brine
  • ¼ oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
  • Sauerkraut salt, for rimming
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

Rim a cocktail glass with sauerkraut salt or coarse salt. Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice, and stir until chilled. Strain into the prepared glass, twist the lemon peel over the glass to express the oil, and discard the lemon peel.

A Farmer's Son from Kent cocktail recipe - Brine cocktails

Farmer’s Son from Kent

Recipe courtesy of The Commoner, Pittsburgh, PA

Lead bartender Mai Jeans is partial to the sweet and spicy profile of bread and butter pickles, but admits dill pickle juice leads to a more savory sip. In this drink, a lemon sherbet syrup adds zing - but Jeans cautions not to be too heavy-handed. “A little citrus is okay to help brighten up a brine, but keep in mind the drink in whole,” she notes. “You don’t want to be stripping enamel off your customer's teeth.”

  • 1 oz. Aviation Gin
  • 1 oz. Pimm’s #1 Liqueur
  • ½ oz. housemade bread and butter pickle brine
  • ½ oz. lemon sherbet syrup (see Note)
  • Oskar Blues Pinner IPA, chilled
  • Blooming mint bouquet, seasonal berries and bread and butter pickle, for garnish

In the short end of a shaker tin, add all ingredients except the IPA and garnishes. Add ice, shake and strain into a 14-oz. Collins glass filled with ice. Top with IPA and garnish with mint, berries and pickle.

For the lemon sherbet:

Take the peels of 4 lemons, mix with 1 ½ cups sugar, and let set for 30 minutes to macerate into an oleo-saccharum. In a small saucepan, combine the oleo-saccharum and lemon juice over medium heat, stirring slowly to dissolve the sugar. When the syrup has thickened, remove it from the heat. Let it cool, strain through a chinois into bottles, and store up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

The Noble Experiment Dirty Martini Program cocktail recipe - Brine cocktails

The Noble Experiment Dirty Program Martini

Recipe courtesy of Noble Experiment, San Diego, CA

Dirty Martinis often get a bad rap as nothing more than a thoughtless splash of olive juice muddling up the vodka version of the classic sip. But at Noble Experiment, the drink is a complex, multi-layered creation, where salty Fino Sherry and full-bodied Elyx Vodka are stirred with a blend of three different brines and a hot pepper tincture. “A small amount of brine adds a touch of salt and savory magic to a vegetal and/or herbaceous cocktail by bringing all the green and herb flavors to the front,” muses Anthony Schmidt, beverage director for CH Projects.

  • 2 oz. Absolut Elyx Vodka
  • ¼ oz. Fino Sherry
  • ¾ oz. house made blend of brines (see Note)
  • Olive, pickled onion, pickled baby green tomato and sprig of dill, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish in mixing glass. Add ice, stir, and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with the olive, onion, tomato and dill.

For the house made blend of brines:

Combines 2 parts Dirty Sue Olive Brine, 1 part Dirty Sue Onion Brine, 1 part good Kosher dill pickle brine and 1/15 part serrano chile tincture (8 oz. Everclear and 3 sliced serrano peppers, steeped for 24 hours.)

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on  Twitter  and  Instagram  @kmagyarics.

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