Editor's note: There are so many food entrepreneurs in the city these days, it can be hard to keep up with them all! Please welcome Stephanie Klose, who'll introduce you to a different food artisan each week.
Shamus Jones, the "executive briner" behind Brooklyn Brine, first fell down the seasonal-pickle rabbit hole when a forager came to the back door of the Seattle restaurant where he was working and "threw a hundred pounds of chanterelles at us."
Since they wouldn't be able to use all of the expensive wild mushrooms before spoilage set in, they pickled some; and Jones started seeing pickles—and the potentially pickle-able—everywhere. As he continued his restaurant career, eventually moving to Brooklyn, every menu he developed included a wide variety of brined and fermented goodies that helped to shape the dishes by complementing and balancing richer flavors.
So when he decided to move away from full-time restaurant work, starting a pickle business was the obvious choice.
Early in his experiments, Jones used whiskey barrels to hold the cucumbers during lacto-fermentation, a process in which salt water, beneficial bacteria, and time (typically about 30 days) work together to give the vegetables their characteristic tang; there's no vinegar added.
He was blown away by the results. "As a chef, I used whiskey a lot," Jones says, "so it was kind of intuitive." The company's Whiskey Sour Pickles are fermented in oak whiskey barrels and include a splash of McKenzie rye whiskey, which is made from New York State grains and distilled in the Finger Lakes, in the brine.
While there's isn't much overt whiskey flavor, the pickles have a complex sharpness that's enhanced by the copious spices floating in the brine and locally grown hot peppers, the latter supplying a gently building heat that leaves lips tingling. They make the perfect pickle component in a ploughman's lunch or alongside a burger. And when you've eaten that last crisp spear, the spirit-laced brine is ideal for a pickleback: consecutively consumed shots of whiskey and pickle brine. (If you prefer to imbibe in public, the Black Rabbit bar in Greenpoint serves a Brooklyn Brine pickleback.)
Brooklyn Brine pickles can be found at The Meat Hook, Murray's Cheese and Brooklyn Farmacy, as well as many other fine shops. Visit BrooklynBrine.com for a complete list of vendors and BrooklynBrine.blogspot.com for the latest pickle news.