I worried at first that the beer I was about to try would taste like a gulp of pickle juice, swallowed straight from the jar. But I was proven pleasantly wrong.
A dill-flavored, gose-style beer first created in collaboration between Carrboro's Steel String Brewery and Saxapahaw's Haw River Farmhouse Ales, Picklemania was instead a light-bodied, moderately carbonated wonder. At less than 4 percent ABV, the gose delivered layers of tart lemon and subtle dill over a bright, fresh salty body—not a mouthful of pickle juice at all.
"It's more of a beer-nerd kind of beer," says Steel String's head brewer, Will Isley. "We get a lot of comments about how people don't think they could drink a whole pint of it, but for those people who are willing to challenge their palates, they typically love it."
I am, turns out, one of those people.
The pairing makes conceptual sense, as both pickles and beer are products of fermentation. The recent rise in popularity of small-batch pickling has launched a slew of similarly briny libations: picklebacks, pickletinis, and other ferment-inspired drinks. Picklemania is a logical, certainly bold next step.
"We had done plenty of goses before and thought it would be fun to take it to the furthest extreme: basically a pickle brine," says Isley.
Steel String first brewed Picklemania in tandem with Haw River for its own 2013 grand opening, but Steel String now produces the bulk of it, releasing it every few months from its Carrboro taproom. It pours a cloudy yellow hue under a thin white head; fresh herbal aromas of dill, citrus, allspice, peppercorns, and coriander waft from the glass, sure signs of the rich brine inside.
"People have a very love-hate relationship with dill," says Isley. "I think it has a nice hint of dill without that overriding dill flavor."
On the beer's suitably green label, a bespectacled, bearded adult pickle tends a vat of baby specimens as the family's long-faced dog (not a pickle) looks on. For Isley, it, like the beer, is an invocation of childhood.
"Pickling Day," he exclaims. "The one day of the year when my friend Charles's dad used to put on a mesh tank top, go into the hot basement, and make a giant vat of cucumber pickles."
Savory-and-spiced weirdness, indeed.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Gettin' Pickled"