Beer Brine Pickles

After canning a batch of kosher dill spears last year that while delicious, quickly lost their crunch, I decided to stick with refrigerator pickles. You don’t need any special equipment to do this – not even mason jars. Wash out some other glass jar (spaghetti sauce, salsa, whatever) and you’re in business. The other nice thing is that it’s easy to make any size batch.

I’ve had good success with this recipe, using Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and crushed red pepper or jalapeno slices. But while I was looking that one up to check proportions, I noticed this one for hop pickles, and it caught my eye. I didn’t have anything particularly hoppy around to use with it, but it caused me to experiment a bit with the method and the spicing. I found this recipe to be less tangy/sour/pickley than the other, at least after four days, so if that’s what you like, you might try the other version, or otherwise spice this up.

Sierra Nevada Beer Brine Pickles
Makes 2 quarts

  • About 3 pounds cucumbers – I used four (quite large) pickling cukes. Try to avoid supermarket cukes, as they are coated in wax. It won’t harm you but you want the pickles to absorb as much flavor as possible as quickly as possible. Otherwise wash ’em good.
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • Two 12oz bottles Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (one for the pot and one for the cook)
  • 2 tablespoons pickling or sea salt (or other salt free of iodine or other anti-caking agents)
  • 4 teaspoons pickling spices, divided*
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill or dill seed OR a few sprigs of fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, divided OR 1-2 jalapenos, rinsed & sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half or scored
  • Clean glass jars and lids. I used two one-quart mason jars.

Bring the vinegar and salt to a simmer over medium-low heat in a nonreactive pot (stainless steel or enameled cast iron, a nonstick pan in good shape should also be fine).

While that’s going, divide the pickling spices, mustard seed, dill, crushed red pepper and garlic between the jars. This part is not an exact science – I eyeballed these measurements.

Rinse and slice your cucumbers, and pack them into the jars. Fill up as much space as you can. If you’re doing spears, I find it helpful to set the jar on its side to fill it. Don’t be afraid to stick your hand in there and rearrange things.

Open the beers. Carefully pour one into a glass and taste to make sure you got a good batch of beer before you proceed with the pickles.

When the salt has dissolved, add the other beer to the pot. It will foam up so I hope you used a big enough pot. Let it simmer for a minute and turn the heat off.

When your jars are packed and the brine is ready, move your jars over next to the pot, and pour the brine over the pickles. Proceed slowly, as it will need to filter thorough the cucumbers. It’s helpful to use a ladle or a measuring cup for this. Fill until the pickles are just covered.

Now you want to try to release any air pockets. Get some sort of long, skinny utensil, like a chopstick or a narrow-handled spoon, and carefully run it down the sides of each jar several times. As you do this, wiggle the chopstick, or whatever, around a bit to help things settle. You’ll see the air bubbles float up to the top, and this will also bring up some of the spices. Once the rate of bubbles you release slows, you should see you have a little more room at the top. You probably had some brine left, so top it off. If you ran out, just add plain white vinegar.

Cap the jars and leave them out at room temperature for about 24 hours. Then stick them in the fridge. I like to give them another day or two before I plan to eat them – the longer they sit, the more intensely flavored they’ll be. They’ll last in the fridge for a while.

*Don’t keep pickling spices around? No problem. At a minimum, divide a tablespoon of mustard seeds and a tablespoon of black peppercorns between your jars. You could also crush up a couple of bay leaves as well. Take a look at the ingredient list for Penzey’s pickling spices to see what else you have on hand and can add. Just make sure you’re using whole spices rather than ground – mostly because the ground spices will cloud your brine. If you’re really in a pinch and need to use ground spices, I’d add them to the brine along with the salt – otherwise they’ll just get cemented to the bottom of your jar.