Go on a savoury cocktail trail across India

From riffs on the iconic Gibson to Pickleback shots and Martinis that are whole lot dirtier, India’s bar scene gets tart and tangy with pickle and brine cocktails

Raul Dias
Published18 Jun 2024, 03:00 PM IST
(Left) Kalamkari at PCO in Mumbai; and Dr. Batra’s Martini at Soka in Bengaluru.
(Left) Kalamkari at PCO in Mumbai; and Dr. Batra’s Martini at Soka in Bengaluru.

It’s safe to say that the resurrection of the craft cocktail movement in the early twenty-first century revived an interest in several genres of old-school cocktails, like the renaissance of the speakeasy-style libations. These drinks hark back to a time when strong floral tinctures and herbaceous syrups masked the inferiority of cheap, bootlegged alcohol like moonshine and bathtub gin of the prohibition era.

This also saw a corollary trend emerge with savoury cocktails. It prompted bartenders around the world to experiment with unusual ingredients such as palate-cleansing brine and vinegar-fronted juice of western-style pickles, such as dill, caper berry, gherkin, cucumber and the spicy jalapeño.

The Gibson is a prime example of this alcoholic alchemy. It’s widely believed (amidst the usual conjecture) that in the early twentieth century, bartenders at a New York City bar called Players Club, replaced the olive skewer garnish in a classic martini with a pickled pearl onion one for a tangy hit. This, on the behest of the bar’s ace patron Charles Dana Gibson, an artist who created the famous Gibson Girl illustrations.

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Still in the US, it was another such accidental experiment that led to the genesis of the Pickleback shot as recently as 2006. It’s a shot of whisky or bourbon chased with a shot of pickle juice. Borrowing from the Polish tradition of knocking back pickle juice after a shot of vodka. As per an article on drinks website Liquor.com, a bartender at Brooklyn’s Bushwick Country Club came up with a Tennessee whiskey shot followed by an equal quantity of pickle juice. The latter which they “pilfered” from a vat of the stuff kept in their storage yard out back by the guys at McClure’s Pickles shop next door who were repairing their premises. Ergo, the name Pickleback.

And by the looks of it, the Indian mixology scene seems to have embraced this mouth-puckering yummy drinks’ trend and other similar cocktails with the following iterations.

Gibson Likes Gimlet at Cirqa, Mumbai

This tributary cocktail is inspired by two classics, the aforementioned Gibson and the Gimlet. While traditionally the former contains pickle juice made with onions, a Gimlet often incorporates a lime cordial. The cordial in this cocktail is a honey-peated one. The innovation here comes in the form of a roasted dry apricot-infused gin and an apricot pickle brine for that double-acid hit.

Pickle Paloma at Yaar, Goa

While a traditional Paloma is made with grapefruit juice soda, tequila, and lime, this riff replaces the grapefruit juice with a spiced jalapeño pickle juice. Made in-house, the savoury tasting juice is then carbonated before being shaken with tequila and lime. A sprinkling of sea salt adds the finishing touch with a brine-y hit.

Pickle Jack and Greek Gibson at Mezze Mambo, New Delhi

Paying double tribute to pickle juice and brine is this Mediterranean restobar. To begin with, Pickle Jack is a shot of tequila chased with the juice of seasonal homemade Lebanese style pickles (called torshi) with ingredients like carrot, beetroot and cucumber. Then there’s a gin cocktail on the menu called Greek Gibson which is infused with homemade fig pickle juice to bring in that Hellenic homage.

Dr. Batra’s Martini at Soka, Bengaluru

A tequila martini with a twist, this drink is the sum of its parts with tequila blanco, herb tincture and star gooseberry pickle brine. This brine is made in-house with gooseberry macerated in white vinegar, spices and herbs like peppercorns, coriander seeds and dill, along with sugar and water. It’s allowed to rest for a week in an airtight container and strained. “Drink this and get your hair back” is the tagline for this drink with the bizarre name. ‘nuff said!

Kalamkari at PCO, Mumbai

Giving a desi spin to the martini is this cocktail named after the Kalamkari fabric from the pickle-loving state of Andhra Pradesh. Built with a base of vodka and a spicy-meets-tangy combination of ginger and raw mango brine, this drink weaves in loads of flavour. For a touch of elegance, mango caviar pearls are used as a garnish.

Dill Pickle Martini at Dublin – The Irish Bar, ITC Grand Central, Mumbai

Putting a savoury pickle-enhanced spin on a classic dirty martini—which is usually dry and crisp—this vodka martini combines the dill pickle’s acidic and salty bite with the clean flavour of vodka, resulting in an unusual martini. One where the dill pickle is upgraded from being a mere martini garnish to one of its championing flavours.

Pickle Me at Vario, Mumbai

This technique-forward cocktail features spiced butter-washed Tennessee whiskey, where the butter is infused with a fragrant blend of pickle juice herbs and spices such as bay leaves, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and fresh dill leaves. This drink also incorporates the crisp freshness of cucumber vermouth, the delicate floral notes of elderflower shrub, and the tangy zest of caper berry brine.

To make a pickled cocktail at home, here are two recipes:

Kalamkari
Recipe by Shelton Fernandes, bar manager, PCO, Mumbai

Ingredients

50ml vodka

25ml ginger and raw mango brine (mix 125gm caster sugar, 250ml apple cider vinegar, and 250ml water. Slice 250gm raw mango and 250gm ginger, add them to the brine, and let it sit for at least seven days before using 25ml of it).

10ml lime acid (equal quantities of malic and citric acids, both available at chemist shops)

1 cup ice

Method

Fill a mixing glass or a cocktail stirring glass with ice. Pour in vodka, ginger and raw mango brine, and lime juice. Stir the ingredients gently and continuously with a bar spoon for about 15-20 seconds. Strain the stirred cocktail into a chilled glass and serve.

Dill Pickle Martini
Recipe by Vikram Singh Kaplish, Food & Beverage Manager, Dublin – The Irish Bar, ITC Grand Central, Mumbai

Ingredients:

2 cups ice
133ml vodka
45ml dill pickle juice
2 dill pickle skewers (for garnish)

Method:

Pour ice into a cocktail shaker. Add vodka and dill pickle juice. Cover the shaker and shake vigorously for approximately 20 seconds. Strain it into martini glasses. Garnish each cocktail with a dill pickle skewer.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.

Also read: A restaurant in Rishikesh offers a taste of food of the gods

 

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First Published:18 Jun 2024, 03:00 PM IST
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