From ‘Touchings’ to Kimchi: Bengaluru’s pickle-infused cocktails are stirring up nostalgia

From Malayalee touchings to Kannadiga uppinakayi and even Korean kimchi, Bengaluru mixologists are blending the essence of pickles into our glasses, shaking up the traditional cocktail scene

October 20, 2023 01:22 pm | Updated 01:26 pm IST

Pickle infused cocktail at Roxie, Bengaluru

Pickle infused cocktail at Roxie, Bengaluru | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Sorry, a pickle what? That was my reaction when I first heard about the pickleback. The drink, a shot of vodka or tequila followed by a shot of pickle brine blend, is slowly finding followers in Bengaluru.

It’s not all that crazy when you put it into context. After all, our Malayalee ammavans (uncles) have been dipping their fingers into kadu manga curry (raw mango pickle) and savouring it alongside every sip of their nadan charayam (countryside arrack) since their toddy shop days. Pickleback, is a delicious evolution of this age-old tradition, transitioning from its humble beginnings as touchings (bar snack) to add a tangy twist to the urban nightlife in Bengaluru.

Mixologist Avinash Kapoli, who introduced the pickleback at Raahi Neo Kitchen & Bar and Jamming Goat 2.0, explains, “We took the concept of touchings and brought it into the fine dining experience, paying tribute to the tradition. The idea is to have a shot of the spirit of your choice and then down a pickleback”.

Umesh Chettri, mixologist at Roxie, Bengaluru

Umesh Chettri, mixologist at Roxie, Bengaluru | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

At Jamming Goat 2.0, the signature pickleback starts with a unique process. Fresh pineapple, salt, and apple cider are blended together and left to pickle for a few days. Afterwards, the mixture is carefully filtered and a dash of wasabi is introduced to it. The concoction is then bottled for preservation.

Meanwhile, at Raahi, their pickleback boasts a distinctively fruity and peppery profile, coupled with a fiery kick. Instead of traditional wasabi, they employ Kerala’s kandhari molagu (bird’s eye chili) to infuse the pineapple blend with its bold flavour.

But pickleback isn’t the end-all-be-all for how mixologists use pickles in the city. “They even make great citric substitutes in cocktails,” says Avinash, whose take on Bloody Mary sees the addition of beetroot pickle and jalapeño brine into the blend. “We call it Not-a-Bloody Mary”.

Bengalureans trying pickle-infused cocktails at Roxie, Bengaluru

Bengalureans trying pickle-infused cocktails at Roxie, Bengaluru | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Local ingredients such as bimbli (tree sorrel), raw mango, starfruit, make for great pickles to be used in cocktails. “The idea is to pick ingredients that play well with salt. For example, we have a margarita cocktail that is a blend of pickled bimbli, tequila, pickled lime and sugar, that is quite popular in our restaurant,” he adds.

For Sudeep T, head bartender at Babylonia in Bengaluru, bringing his childhood favourite, mavinakayi uppinakayi (raw mango pickle in Kannada), was a no-brainer. “The idea was to serve curd rice in a glass and which Bengalurean doesn’t love curd rice with some mavinakayi uppinakayi,” says Sudeep.

The Goose Nostalgia served in Babylonia is a filtered blend of clarified rice water, raw mango pickle and buttermilk, which is then bottled for two days, after which it is served with vodka and a crisp rice popadum. “Vodka is a neutral spirit, so it is usually a mixologist’s go-to spirit to experiment with,” says Sudeep.

Pickle infused cocktail at Roxie, Bengaluru

Pickle infused cocktail at Roxie, Bengaluru | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“Vodka really opens up with salty flavours, which is why it works so well when you have a pickle blend,” says Umesh Chettri, mixologist at Roxie, Bengaluru.

“We had these preserved jalapeños, where the kitchen used the jalapeños for dishes and then the brine was usually just thrown out, so I thought why not use this brine to make a cocktail? After about two months in research and development I came up with seven cocktails,” adds Umesh, the former mixologist of Ekaa, Mumbai .

His Orchard of Spice cocktail is a blend of apple juice, passionfruit syrup, sweet lime pickle-washed vodka and jalapeno brine. While the cocktail is a salty, fruity blend in its own right, the pickle-washed vodka in itself makes for a delicious standalone drink.

However, it was his K-Pickle Mingle that truly turned heads at Pickletales, a pickle-infused cocktail festival running at Roxie, a crafthouse in Bengaluru, until the end of October. For this, he uses pop culture’s favourite fermented condiment — the kimchi. It is a blend of in-house kimchi brine, litchi, lime, cranberry juices, and mustard honey, garnished with a vegan foam. It is sour, fruity and has an umami aftertaste from the kimchi.

Pickletales, a pickle-infused cocktail festival running at Roxie, Bengaluru, until the end of October

Pickletales, a pickle-infused cocktail festival running at Roxie, Bengaluru, until the end of October | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The month-long pickle-inflused cocktail festival at Roxie will also serve as a testing ground for Umesh’s seven pickle cocktails. “The idea for the festival came about because one day I saw an ad for a bharni (ceramic pickle jar) and then I went down the rabbit hole. You know how it goes. One day you are googling one thing and the next day you are taking an online course on the art of pickles, that is pretty much how it went for me,” chuckles Pravesh Pandey, co-founder, Roxie.

Pravesh shares that setting up a menu for the festival was challenging because pickle flavours can be really sharp. “Finding that balance is difficult. That’s when I realised having honey to smooth out the flavour can help me deliver the profile and cut down on the salty sharpness of pickles,” says Umesh.

His Applecombie cocktail is a blend of giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables), apple juice, honey, soda, and gin. It is inspired by the Amalfi bay and leaves a salty tingle on your tongue.

If only James Bond had a taste for an Indian adventure, his next mission could come with a zesty twist: “Pickled, not stirred.”

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