When I meet Bradley Bennett, “Principal Pickle” at Pacific Pickle Works, he hands me a squat mason jar filled with what I later learn is pickled fennel, a test product that boasts an unconventional brine of rice vinegar, tangerine zest, ginger, and Thai chilies.
A sometime software developer, Bennett made pickles as a hobby for a decade, perfecting his brine with every batch and offloading the spoils as holiday gifts. Recipients campaigned for him to go pro; secret recipe in hand, he and biz partner Emi Umezawa secured a canning license and some shared commercial space, and, recently, Bennett’s made pickling of things his full-time gig.
Incorporated since October 2010, Pacific Pickle Works is seeing some exciting successes as of late because, as Bennett put it, “They’re an easy sell once people get a taste.” While perhaps it’s true that you can’t toss a cucumber in Brooklyn without hitting an artisanal pickle maker, the same can’t be said of the West Coast. But the market void isn’t all that’s behind Pacific Pickle’s building heat: The suckers are good. I first encountered the pickles —all natural, hand-packed, organic when possible, and featuring California produce, including Givens Farms green beans, beets, and carrots — while engaged in a Saturday-morning wait at C’est Cheese. Three varieties — Jalabeaños, Asparagusto, and Carriots of Fire — were laid out as samples. And yes, dear reader, I tried them all. (Research!) Crisp, piquant, with the perfect amount of kick, they’re the sort of snacks that make one believe one could subsist exclusively on Bloody Marys.
Currently, you can pick up the pickles at C’est Cheese, Lazy Acres, Tri-County Produce, Metropulos, il Fustino, Paseo Nuevo’s newly opened Pickle & Swiss sandwich shop, adorning Tupelo Junction’s famed Bloody Marys, dress O Street Ruck’s bánh mì sandwiches, and starring in two cocktails at Milk & Honey and Alcazar: the Unbeetable Martini (a dirty martini, made with “Unbeetables” pickled beet juice), and the Pickle Back, done like a tequila shot but with a lick of Sriracha, shot of Jameson, and back of pickle juice. While that might sound foul, the acidity of the pickle juice neutralizes the burn of the whiskey, leaving only a pleasing warmth in its place. Or so I’m told.
The real coup, however, is the shelf space PPW soon will occupy at Whole Foods, as part of its Local Producer program. While the vetting process has proved “a pain in the ass,” Bennett says, “It’s really given me an appreciation for how thorough they are.” By year’s end, you should be able to find them at Whole Foods in Santa Barbara, Thousand Oaks, and Woodland Hills.
But that’s not all that’s been keeping these picklers up to their elbows in brine. Four new varieties are in development: cauliflower, brussels sprouts, okra, and that fennel. (No, the names aren’t as snappy as the others just yet; they crowdsource those clever monikers via Facebook; “like” them if you’re into pickles and good with puns.) As for the fennel, back at The Independent office, I cracked the jar to a scrum of eager hands. “Yum!” was the most common reply, save for Ethan Stewart, who said, “That’d be great with whiskey!”