- Daria Bishop
- Freshly made Heady Pickles
In the event of an apocalypse, Angela Gerace is the person to call. Her dry storage is not only fully stocked with jars of pickles, it also has shelves lined with bottles of the best booze Vermont has to offer.
"If something happens and we can't drink the water, I've got everyone covered," she joked.
Gerace isn't a doomsday prepper; she owns and operates the Tipsy Pickle, an artisan pickle company that flavors its handmade sweet, sour and spicy rounds with beer and spirits from the state's breweries and distilleries. Her Bourbon Barrel Aged Rum Pickles, made with booze from Smugglers' Notch Distillery, were a finalist at the 2021 Good Food Awards, as were her Maple Whiskey Cherries.
A well-stocked pantry might be a genetic trait for Gerace, 41, of Essex Junction. Her grandparents were farmers in Canada before moving to Vermont, and she has childhood memories of a closet full of preserved fruit and vegetables from their extensive gardens: peas, tomato sauce, salsa, pickles.
They even canned chickens. Gerace recalls reaching into a chicken carcass to extract the heart, kidneys and liver, with her grandfather's encouragement. "It was pretty morbid, but I remember that smell distinctly," she said with a laugh.
Later, her mother taught her to can and pickle. "Everyone in my family can can," she added.
After attending the New England Culinary Institute and working in the food industry for years, she gave it up to go to Champlain College because "I needed a job with a 401k," said Gerace, who now works full time at the Shelburne Police Department.
When the garden that Gerace and her husband planted at their first home produced more vegetables than they needed, she returned to her family traditions. The Winooski native started the Tipsy Pickle as a hobby in 2014.
"It was always 'preserve and don't waste,' which is something we learned at NECI, as well," Gerace said. "To not waste any of the produce we worked so hard to grow, I started pickling — and I just thought, What happens if I put some beer in here?" The beer was from Switchback Brewing, and it led to the Tipsy Pickle's first product: a spicy sour pickle.
Next, Gerace experimented with a sweet pickle made using a stout from Otter Creek Brewing. A friend who worked at the Middlebury brewery invited her to test the market at its harvest festival. The pickles were a hit.
Now Gerace has a full-fledged pickle business and collaborates with many of the top beer and spirits producers in Vermont. In 2020, she started giving more time to the Tipsy Pickle on top of her regular job.
At first, she sold most of her products at events such as the Vermont Brewers Festival, where she could offer samples directly to customers. Those events are off the table for now, but business is still booming.
Gerace sells through A Slice of Vermont, an online marketplace run by Aung Htet, founder and CEO of Burlington-based shipping company AGH Fulfillment. The partnership has "dramatically increased sales," she said, by allowing her to sell online without worrying about shipping and handling. Her products are also available at many of the breweries and distilleries with which she partners, plus Winooski's Beverage Warehouse, Local Maverick and other locations around the state.
The Tipsy Pickle has grown to offer more than 20 varieties, from Sip of Sunshine Pickles with dried Mexican chiles to sweet pickles made with Citizen Cider's Dirty Mayor. Three more flavors are coming soon.
Tourists are most partial to the Heady Pickles, a traditional sour style made with the Alchemist's Heady Topper, Gerace said. Local customers, by contrast, seem to gravitate toward her spicy offerings and those with lots of garlic. "Vermonters love the spicy stuff," she said with a laugh. "They clear your palate and wake you up a little."
- Daria Bishop
- Angela Gerace
Gerace chops all of the cucumbers by hand and layers them carefully into jars on top of the spices. Then she cooks the brine — boiling off all of the alcohol to leave only the flavor of the IPA, stout, cider, gin or whiskey — before putting each jar in the canner to be processed.
It's a lot of work, she said, "but I probably have one of the greatest jobs in the state."
Jeremy Elliott, president and co-owner of Smugglers' Notch Distillery in Jeffersonville, started working with Gerace a few years ago. Their early collaborations focused on the distillery's biggest sellers: its vodka and gin. Later, they added limited-batch products. Today, the Tipsy Pickle line includes four flavors made with the distillery's spirits: Hot Notch Vodka Pickles, 802 Gin Pickles, Maple Bourbon Whiskey Pickles and the aforementioned Bourbon Barrel Aged Rum Pickles.
Smugglers' Notch Distillery sells Tipsy Pickles at its tasting rooms and online. "I can't even believe how many pickles we sell — pallets and pallets of pickles," Elliott said. "Angela's so passionate about making things perfectly; she's persistent and resilient, and she's a wonderful partner for us to have."
Gerace also makes pickles in-house for breweries. At Four Quarters Brewing's new tasting room in Winooski, customers can purchase jars of Caraway Phaze Pickles — peppery, citrusy pickles made with the brewery's Phaze IPA — or order spears made with the same recipe to snack on with their beers. The pickle spears Gerace makes in-house are unprocessed "refrigerator pickles"; tasting both spears and slices is a delicious way to explore the difference between two popular pickle-making methods.
Adding beer or spirits doesn't change the processing method, but Gerace does have to adjust the tried-and-true brine recipe — equal parts water to vinegar — that her mother taught her. Using less water helps maintain the proper pH level when she adds the booze, and it keeps the acidity where it needs to be through processing. She also has to make sure the brine comes to a rolling boil — which home picklers don't need to do — to cook out the alcohol and make the product shelf-stable.
Right now, Gerace makes her tipsy pickles at two commercial kitchens, spending Wednesdays at Burlington Friends Meeting and using Brian Stefan's space at Southern Smoke in Winooski when needed. Finding adequate and affordable production space has been a challenge, she said. Foreseeing a pandemic-era entrepreneurship explosion, she's working with a partner to develop a new shared commercial kitchen and resource hub.
"I want it to be a place people can rent out to get their small businesses going and get help with all the little things you don't know you need when you're starting out," Gerace said. "There are all kinds of little businesses popping up right now, and they're going to revive our economy."
On a recent Wednesday afternoon at Burlington Friends Meeting, brine-scented steam fogged the antique windows. The conversation was punctuated with the sound of lids sealing — something like "pop," "plunk" or "ping."
"It's my favorite sound in the world," Gerace said.
After they emerge from the rolling boil of the water-bath canners, the jars cool, and the air pressure inside decreases and creates a vacuum.
- Daria Bishop
- Cucumbers ready for brining to become Heady Pickles
Jars don't have to pop to be sealed properly, Gerace said, "but it's a reassuring thing, like you've done it right."
She was busy producing a "smaller batch" of Heady Pickles — 11 cases. Two electric canners were plugged in on the counter, a traditional metal canning pot was boiling away on the stove, and boxes and 16-ounce jars covered every other available surface.
Pandemic disruptions in the supply chain have combined with the recent cold snap in the southern U.S. to send cucumber prices skyrocketing. In the summer, Gerace buys her cucumbers from Sam Mazza's Farm Market, Bakery and Greenhouses for about $35 a bushel. Out of season, the cucumbers she buys from elsewhere are usually $66 a bushel. Right now, a bushel costs $89.
"I'm still making them, but not as many," Gerace said, because she doesn't want to raise her prices.
Cucumbers aren't the only essential ingredient she's had a hard time getting this year: The summer saw a national shortage of jars and vinegar. The pandemic gardening boom led to a preserving boom as people looked to stretch their homegrown produce and stock their pantries.
"With everybody having their victory gardens, things got more expensive," Gerace said. Still, she's supportive of people learning to DIY. "It was rough for a little bit, but also exciting," she said of the shortages. "These are things I grew up with, but they're also skills everybody should know how to do."
As she completed her final batch and emptied the metal canner into the sink, Gerace mentioned that she gets more questions than ever before from people looking to make pickles of their own.
"I'm happy that people are learning to preserve food," she said. "I didn't invent the pickle. I just have a different take on it."