taste test

Can Pickle-Flavored Seltzer Cure Our Collective Malaise?

Like this, but with bubbles! Photo: Kativ/Getty Images

Every few years, someone observes, correctly, that there is a dearth of savory beverages. “Where Are the Savory Sodas?” wondered Serious Eats in 2012. Six years later, Beverage Daily suggested they were coming. Yet here we are, still drinking natural essences of fruit. Where seltzer is concerned, there is lemon and raspberry and pamplemousse and pineapple pomelo. There is lime, and there is tangerine, and there is even coconut. But there are no vegetal flavors; there are no lightly salinated brines to speak of.

This scarcity in the market is why I was intrigued when somebody involved with Cartoon Network’s publicity department offered to send me a 12-pack of Pickle Rick Miracle Seltzer, a pickle-juice-flavored carbonated beverage designed to appeal to fans of the television program Rick and Morty. I am not a fan of the television program Rick and Morty, mostly because I have never seen it, although I did once take a screenwriting class with a man who was intensely working on a Rick and Morty spec script, so I feel I at least have a handle on its act structure. I am, however, extremely invested in seltzer. It is important to me to be on the forefront of seltzer innovation. Who am I to say no to the future?

That same afternoon, a TaskRabbit courier arrived at my apartment bearing a pickle-colored box of pickle-flavored cans.

Pickle Rick Miracle Seltzer is a branded stunt, meant to promote the Adult Swim Festival, which is now over. But while festivals are fleeting, seltzer is forever, except in this case, because it is available for a limited time. You can buy your own 12-pack for $24, or pay $75 for a 12-pack and a tie-dyed pickle tote and a matching dad cap. It is a collaboration between Adult Swim, the seltzer brand Miracle Seltzer, and a “hydration company” called Pickle Juice, whose target audience is — surprisingly? — endurance athletes. Did you know 2.5 ounces of Pickle Juice® Stops Muscle Cramps Immediately? I learned that on its website. It’s all in the electrolytes.

Do I want a pickle-flavored seltzer? That is the wrong question. “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” Steve Jobs once said.  I have never had a craving for pickle seltzer, it’s true, but perhaps that is because nobody has ever shown it to me. That has changed.

When you crack a can of Pickle Rick, the smell is overwhelmingly pickle. It is the essence of pickle. It is eau de pickle. It is destabilizing, all that pickle. But it is not oppressive. It is profoundly picklish, but not aggressively picklish. It is not an affront, but a fact: Oh, wow, you think. That’s pickle.

A 12-pack costs $24. Photo: Retailer

I sipped. Huh, I thought. Hmmm. It tasted as it smelled: unequivocally pickle-esque. Oh, I thought. Humph. The carbonation was LaCroix-level, prominent but not as sharp as I prefer in most non-pickle settings. The flavor was, as previously mentioned, “pickle.”

Indeed, that is because of the ingredients: filtered water, organic vinegar, salt, organic dill oil, potassium, zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin E. It is pure pickle, without the base note of a vegetable. Instead of a cucumber pickle, what you have here is a water pickle. I sipped and sipped again. It was less briny than I’d expected, less salty, the vinegar less prominent.

I finished one can and started another. I did not lose the taste of pickle so much as I adjusted to it. This is life now, I thought, gently huffing organic dill oil.

What is good? What is bad? Was it really so pickle-y, or was the giant cartoon pickle on the can playing a trick on my brain? Is it like an actual pickle, I wondered, sipping. Or is it like a pickle-flavored Kettle Chip? If all you think about are pickles, it is easy to lose perspective.

Eventually, I decided I needed a control, so, for science, I mixed plain seltzer with juice from a jar of pickles. It was remarkably similar. I tried it with some whiskey, to see if it would taste like a pickleback, but what it tasted like was whiskey, and that was also fine.

I forced a friend to try the pickle seltzer, sitting on my stoop. “That’s kind of good!” she said. “I mean, it’s something!”

It is. It is something. It is novel. It is fun. Arguably, it is the most exciting thing that has happened to me in weeks. Pickle Rick was refreshing, she said, but she probably wouldn’t finish it. “I drank a lot though!” she assured me.

I, too, drank a lot. I have, as of current count, consumed eight cans of the stuff, hoping to come to a definitive conclusion. “Pickle seltzer is great!” I would like to say. Or, “Pickle seltzer is vile!” But it is neither. It does not fit easily into a standard good/bad framework, because there is so little to compare it to.

Instead, I would describe our relationship as “companionable.” I have yet to wake up craving pickle seltzer, but I will be sad when it is gone. It is a new sensation — pickle! — and that, as it turns out, is what I want right now. I don’t need it to be “good,” exactly. I just need it to be something. It is. More than anything else, pickle-flavored seltzer really is something.

Can Pickle Rick Seltzer Cure Our Collective Malaise?