If you have never tasted beer pickles you are in for a treat. The entire pickling liquid flavor profile is brightened up by the beer and the taste of the pickles gets a lively edge. Of course, the choice of beer matters.
We actually have two methods for making beer pickles to offer to your attention – one for refrigerator beer pickles and one for natural beer pickles. Both are equally easy and the main difference is in the ingredients you need to use.
The refrigerator beer pickles method uses vinegar (i.e. acetic acid) as the souring agent. It is Chris’ preferred one in terms of resulting taste. For this post we made it with juicy hazy IPA and added a lot of heat to further flavor the pickles.
The natural beer pickles method relies on natural fermentation (i.e. lactic acid) as the souring agent. Taste wise it is my favored one as I am not the world’s biggest vinegar fan (even though I do take ACV with the mother daily). For this post we used a well balanced crisp American lager .
What You Need to Make Beer Pickles
By way of equipment you really just need clean wide mouth mason jars with screw lids. We used quart sized jars as they make it much easier to stuff whole pickling cucumbers inside. Be sure that your jars are sterilized.
Next, you need salt, sugar, water, beer, and vinegar as your main pickling liquid ingredients.
To flavor the pickles you need:
- black and yellow mustard seeds, jalapeno, Fresno chile, red pepper flakes and (optional) your favorite pre-mixed pickling spice for the refrigerator pickles
- fresh garlic, dill and black peppercorns for the natural beer pickles
Of course, the key ingredient – high quality, fresh, crisp cukes. I cannot accent the freshness factor of the cucumbers (or other vegetable you are considering to pickle) enough. But I will try.
If you want crunchy, full-bodied pickles you must start with fresh, in season little cucumbers.
We really only pickle cucumbers (Kirby) in summer when we can get them at the farmers’ market soon after they have been picked. Sometimes we also pickle lemon cucumbers which we grow in our own tiny garden.
How to Make Beer Pickles
Once you round up your ingredients you can follow the (almost identical) steps to each of the two approaches.
Prepare the pickling brine for each method (detailed instructions below in the recipe card) and let it cool down completely. Wash and dry the cucumbers and arrange them into mason jars along with the seasonings.
Carefully fill each jar with pickling liquid (use a vessel with a spout for convenience) and make sure that the cucumbers are completely covered with liquid. Close lids and store in the refrigerator or in a cool place (for the natural pickles, to allow them to ferment).
Flavors You Can Expect
Each method results in a differently tasting pickle.
With the first approach where vinegar sours the pickles and the brine includes boozy, hoppy and flavorful IPA and the seasonings include hot peppers and chili flakes expect bold, yet very well-balanced flavors. A bit of everything with a definitive snappy edge from the beer.
With the second approach the sour taste comes from natural lacto fermentation – the lactobacillus bacteria naturally covering the skin of the pickles and present in the air will slowly get to work and produce tart lactic acid. The resulting pickles will start off tasting somewhat salty and the flavor will transition to a mild sweetness with just hints of garlic, dill and pepper. A very mild sourness ties everything together and there is an unmistakable yet measured malty presence underlying the entire taste experience.
Suitable Craft Beer Styles for Pickling
Pale ales and IPAs are by far the most commonly added styles to pickling brine. However, there are many other options. Lagers like the American lager we used here or Noble hops flavored German pilsners are great contenders.
Also consider amber ales, red ales, English ordinary bitter or special bitter ales as well as saisons. Beers with rye in the grain bill work great and so do wheat beers (especially those fermented by clean American yeast strains).
And do not be afraid to experiment. You know your taste buds best so please them accordingly.
NOTE: As a general rule of thumb remember that for the natural method the beer should be with low ABV and not hopped late in the boil. Just like too much salt in the brine the alcohol and the hops can interfere with the work of the naturally occurring lactobacillus cultures on the skins of the cucumbers. To avoid slimy pickles do not overdose on the salt and use a beer style as recommended here.
Twists on Beer Pickles
Consider the recipes for the two methods we provide here as a starting point to a beer pickling adventure. You can customize the seasonings as well as the craft beer styles to create the flavors that appeal to you the most. For example:
- turn up the heat in the natural beer pickles by adding red pepper flakes or fresh chiles
- use fresh herbs such as thyme or tarragon instead of dill
- pickle other veggies with dense consistency – we’ve beer pickled baby carrots, haricot verts, cauliflower florets, jalapenos and our lemon cucumber harvest
- use hops salt instead of regular salt to infuse with more hops flavor (better suited for the vinegar soured refrigerator pickles)
Beer pickles are characterized by a delicious lively edge courtesy of the hops and malts in the beer. This recipe lists two pickling approaches - with acetic acid from vinegar and with lactic acid from naturally occurring lactobacillus as the souring agents. Each method yields 2 quart jars of pickles.
- 1 lb fresh cucumbers, smaller sized, fresh from market, unwaxed (recommend Kirby)
- 12 oz IPA or pale ale
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 cups vinegar (apple cider or wine)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1/4 tsp peppercorns
- 1/4 tsp yellow mustard seed
- 1/4 tsp black mustard seed
- 2 cloves garlic peeled, lightly smashed, quartered
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes
- 1/4 tsp pickling spice (optional)
- 1 jalapeno thinly sliced
- 1 Fresno chile thinly sliced
- 1 lb fresh cucumbers, smaller sized, fresh from market, unwaxed (recommend Kirby)
- 2 1/2 tbsp salt
- 2 cups beer (low ABV and not aggressively hopped)
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 6 sprigs dill
- 3 cloves garlic, large peeled, lightly smashed, quartered
- 1/2 tsp peppercorns
Clean and dry the cucumbers.
Combine the water, beer, vinegar, salt and sugar in a small pot and bring to simmer. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt and let cool down completely.
In sterilized mason jars arrange the cucumbers and the sliced peppers, add the peppercorns, mustard seed, garlic, chili flakes and optional pickling spice.
Fill the jars with the cooled down pickling brine and make sure the pickles are submerged, use pickle weights if you have them. Close the lids and store refrigerated. Turn jars upside down and back up every day. Pickles should be ready in about 7 days.
Combine the water, beer and salt in a small pot and bring to simmer. Stir to dissolve the salt and let cool down completely.
In sterilized mason jars arrange the cucumbers and the dill, add the garlic and the peppercorns.
Fill the jars with the cooled down pickling brine and make sure the pickles are completely submerged, use pickle weights if you have them. Close the lids and let sit in a cool spot to ferment for 5-7 days. Be sure the temperature does not exceed 75 F as this may encourage bacteria other than lactobacillus to grow even in the presence of the beer.
Taste in a few days - they should have a very mild sour taste followed by a flavorful sweetness. If you want deeper taste, let ferment for another day or so. After that store refrigerated and consume relatively fast.
Choose only the highest quality, freshest vegetables for best results. Pickle when the vegetables are in season and abundant.
See the text of the post for this recipe card for other beer styles and seasonings suggestions.
A jar of beer pickles makes a lovely gift for craft beer lovers and pickles lovers with a sense of adventure. Just tie a cute handmade label with some twine around the jar and you are ready to go. Gifting that is. Also check out our other DIY gift ideas for beer lovers.
If you enjoyed spending time on Craft Beering we sincerely invite you to join us on Instagram, Facebook, & Pinterest or enter your e-mail in the subscription box below (we’ll send you a list of all new posts every two weeks).