Gonzo for Gherkins: Craft Beer and Pickles

By Ginger Johnson

Since beer is a fermented beverage, it seems only natural to enjoy it with another fermented food: pickles. Because of many varieties of pickles—sweet, sour, bread and butter, tart—and the multitude of craft beer styles, this duo is able to both accentuate and mellow various flavors in your pint and on your plate. Pickles are a fun food to eat and one not often connected to enjoying with beer.

Fermenting foods has long been a way for people to make food stuffs last by taking advantage of the chemical and microbial processes that allow our bodies to still gain nutritional value from an aged food without making us sick. I was inspired to pair these fermented foods after a conversation with another beer and pickle lover, brewer Olivia Cerio of Empire Brewing Company. That was all the motivation I needed to start the pursuit of connecting these two tasty dots.

Beer and Pickles: The Common Ground

As a longtime home canner and even longer pickle enthusiast, this combination struck a flavorful note. What do beer and pickles have in common? Why do they go so well together? And, can you actually make pickles with beer? Since beer flavors and the ingredients in beer offer so many different tastes, and knowing that you can pickle an almost unlimited variety of vegetables, fruits, and other foods…the tasty conundrum is how do you go about it? Enter: Brooklyn Brine Co. and Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales

The Hop-Pickle

Here’ a little uncanny timing for ya–pun intended! Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and Brooklyn Brine Co. Owner Shamus Jones quickly shows that it is possible to use beer in the pickle making process. After enjoying an unassuming snack of Brooklyn Brine pickles and his 60 Minute IPA, Calagione had an Aha! moment when he paused (yes, really) and realized that the incidental pairing had bigger possibilities. He called Jones and one thing led to another…which led to the Hop-Pickle, which is made with 60 Minute IPA, caramelized onions and Cascade hops.

Video: Dogfish Head, Brooklyn Brine make a “damn fine” pickle

The Process is Part of the Reward

There’s so much to love about pickles and craft beer. If you also make either of them yourself, you can understand why eating these delicious goodies is so rewarding. You’ve put real time, energy and dollars into making them. The anticipation for them to be ready is just one of their bittersweet elements. All the same, it’s worth putting them out of sight and “discovering” them a few months later, when you’re ready to break into your first jar. That satisfying softly muted *pop* of the jar opening is akin to the *pffffst* you hear when opening a can or bottle of craft beer.

Beer and Pickle Pairing

Summer potluck season is well upon us, and a favorite thing of mine to share is—you guessed it—my homemade pickles and fresh craft beer. As it stands, I’ve made dozens of kinds of pickles over the years. Some of the standards I always make are cucumber dills, pickled green tomatoes, and cucumber bread and butter pickles. And I can tell you, everyone loves a quality pickle! When partnered with beer, they add some real zest to the party. People appreciate the effort that goes into the creation of both.

You can pair beer and pickles at the drop of a grain bag. For a snack, side dish, appetizer—formally or informally—even as a course in a meal; I’ve even seen them incorporated into a few desserts! It depends on what kinds of flavors you want to present and when.

Beer and Food Extra: Principles of Matching

All pairings boil down to a few considerations, primarily: what kind of flavor profile do both the pickle and the beer offer? What kind of flavor experience do I want to have? What is the pickle made from; vegetable, fruit, other? And what are the major flavors in the beer I want to complement and enhance with the pickle?

Craft Beer and Pickle Pairings

  • Doppelbock | spicy pepper pickles
  • Kolsch or pilsner | dill pickles
  • Kriek lambic | Pickled beets
  • Nut brown | curried carrot pickles
  • Wit | pickled ginger
  • Porter | preserved roasted red peppers

Craft Beer and Pickled Fruit Pairings

  • Abbey ale | pickled spiced lemon rinds
  • Belgian-style ale | sweet watermelon rind pickles
  • Hefeweizen | spiced orange slices

The International Gherkin

While researching this topic, I learned that beer and pickles is a universal idea. Restaurateur and Chef Sanaa Abourzek shares that going for “beer and pickles is a common social outing in places like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Italy.” Beer and pickles both have somewhat fluid boundaries for what defines them and their making in different parts of the world. It’s great to see such common goodies as beer and pickles bring the globe together!

Make Your Own

So what about heading to the kitchen to make your own pickles with beer or beer ingredients? Ensuring food safety is high on the list when pickling and Lucy Saunders, author of The Best of American Beer and Food, has an idea to this end. When working with beer, she suggests making refrigerator pickles (as opposed to those made in a waterbath and canned for shelf-storage). “I found that heat canning made the hops in the IPA beer brine taste very bitter,” explains Saunders. “So, refrigerator pickles are a good compromise.”

Recipe: Sweet and Spicy Beer Pickles

In talking with Shamus of the Brookline Brine Co., he shared how research and development factors into bringing safe and tasty pickles to market. He utilizes a nearby university for testing, and then works to produce what they want flavor-wise only after they know the brine and pickles are safe to package and consume. As far as flavor goes, Shamus said, “If you taste that brine, think of it as a soup for the things you’re cooking into it.”

Beer and pickles. Who’d a thunk it?! Go forth, marinate nicely, and enjoy one pickle and beer at a time.

Ginger Johnson is a loud laugher and energetic beer enthusiast. She started Women Enjoying Beer to educate and share the great experience of craft beer with women and men everywhere. She works with consumers directly to find out what women want from their beer and beer businesses to market craft beer to women. She is also the author of How To Market Beer To Women: Don’t Sell Me A Pink Hammer.

Read more from Ginger Johnson