Jan 13, 2020
McClure’s Bloody Mary mix, Pigeon Hill vodka team up

McClure’s Pickles co-founders (and brothers) Bob and Jim McClure wanted to pair their Bloody Mary Mixer with a vodka to create a canned ready-to-drink Bloody Mary, but they didn’t want to change the mix’s original formula to do it.

Ironically, what made the gourmet picklers’ mix special also was what made it difficult to work with in terms of combining with alcohol to create a packaged product.

“Whenever we’ve tried to get our Bloody Mary mix into a spirit-based format, we were told, ‘You can’t use your Bloody Mary mix because it’s got too many fresh ingredients,’” Bob McClure said. “Well, that’s what makes it flavorful and unique.”

With the exception of the tomato puree base, McClure’s processes the other fresh ingredients in the mix at its Detroit facility and warehouse — including garlic, peppers and dill — to go with their signature pickle brine. McClure’s makes four flavors of gourmet pickles — garlic and dill, bread and butter, a spicy version and a sweet and spicy version, as well as relish and sauerkraut.

“We’ll chop out the garlic, the peppers, the dill — we mix it all together in a brine,” McClure said of the Bloody Mary mix process. “It will then pump into the filling station and the Bloody Mary mix jars just keep rolling down. It’s just like we do when we’re making pickles, but the Bloody Mary is a far easier process because it’s going through a tube instead of hand-dropped into jars.”

Finding Pigeon Hill

After inquiring with several vodka distillers and even one failed attempt, McClure’s approached Pigeon Hill Brewing Company, located about 200 miles away in Muskegon, Michigan. Jim McClure was familiar with Pigeon Hill’s owners, and the brothers liked the idea of partnering with another Michigan company, but one based on the opposite side of the state.

“(Pigeon Hill) has a great presence on the west side of the state, like we do on the east side,” Bob McClure said. “We thought, ‘Let’s make this work.’”

Whereas others said McClure’s mix wouldn’t work, the folks at Pigeon Hill were willing to get creative with a new process to maintain the integrity of the ingredients and create a safe, shelf-ready canned product.

“Pigeon Hill said … we have to find the right mixer and the right hoses and tubes and pumps, but we can do that,” McClure said. “We are able to make large batches of our mix in totes and send that to Pigeon Hill, so they can pump that into their tanks.

“When you get a premixed can of our RTD product, it really tastes like our Bloody Mary mix and all the fresh inclusions.”

The cocktails hit shelves earlier this summer. They are 7.5% alcohol by volume and are typically sold in four-packs.

“We think it’ll be great for brunches and great for (tailgating) gamedays,” McClure said. “The funny thing about Bloody Marys is everybody has their own way they like to make them. We don’t want to take away from that. You can take a can and pour into a nice cool glass and dress it up whichever way you want, whether with a pickle spear, Worcestershire sauce, celery.

“Ours is vegan and vegetarian; we don’t have any allergens. That’s a nice bonus to consumers.”

Pickle cucumber sources

Michigan grows more pickle cucumbers any other state, but Bob McClure acknowledged the growing season is short.

“When we first started out (in 2006), we were getting them from whomever we could get them from at a good price, because we were small and we didn’t have bargaining power. … Even then, we used local processors and local growers to help us get through certain seasonal gaps,” he said.

“Now we have enough buying power where we’re contracting with farmers. During the summer season from July through September, we’re ordering from our Michigan farmer. The rest of the season we use Mexico, Texas, Florida and up through where the sun warms up the ground. Then we’ll move up through the Rust Belt until we get back to Michigan.”

— Zeke Jennings, VGN correspondent


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