Joe and Bob McClure might sound like characters from a Portlandia sketch - or at least they might were they not so steadfastly otherwise unhipster (and not from Portland). Then there's the undeniable fact that their pickles are too good to be the work of trustafarians or any other species of dilettante. The brothers' label, McClure's, was founded nine years ago from a family recipe and has gained a solid following in the US and Canada, as well as on our shores. Here, Joe McClure talks us through how he and Bob accidentally became the poster boys for the ultimate food-loving hipster profession.
How did your pickles make it from the family kitchen to the grocery store?
It's an old family recipe. My grandparents used to make it and they used to yank us into the kitchen every morning in August to make these pickles. We were so young we didn't know what we were doing, so we'd just go "alright, it's pickle day". We did it year after year, after year, but trends started changing and people's habits starting changing…It was very much just a hobby at that point and then it grew, really, case by case, pickle by pickle. To put it simply, there really was no strategy behind it. We just knew we had a good product and we came up with a good design, and the combination of those two got us where we are today.
Which pickle started it all?
The one we made growing up was spicy whole pickles. Not everyone likes spicy food, so we pulled the peppers out.
Was it your intention to be at the helm of the ultimate hipster food brand?
If you look at our label it says Brooklyn and Detroit. My brother used to live in Brooklyn, I'm in Detroit. He moved there soon after school, so he was there long before we started the pickle company. It was serendipitous; it wasn't planned like, "Oh, we've got two cool cities, let's put it on the label". That's where we started, our backyards.
What's the McClure family secret to perfect pickles?
If you look at our jar it's got like five ingredients, right? Keep it simple. A good pickle starts with a good cucumber, so we work directly with our farmer. If you start with a bad cucumber you're going to end up with a bad pickle, and then everything we bring to that jar. We trained everybody [for] weeks on how to package properly because if they do it wrong it conveys the wrong message to the customer. We wanted it to look a certain way. It's got to taste good and it's got to present itself well. It's like a good chef, he's got to be consistent and he's got to make good meals day after day.
There'll be more products. More geographical areas that we tackle and there's plenty of work to do in our backyards, Michigan and New York. The next thing we're coming out with that will be ready this spring/summer will be a Michelada. It's a Mexican-style beer with a shot of Bloody Mary in it. We're coming out with that in a can with a Detroit beer, so have that kind of teamed up like a co-brand. The next thing we're going to do is in the spirit category. We just got a licence to bottle in our plant, so the idea behind that is we're going to pre-mix our Bloody Mary. Right now, we sell the jar, you take it home and you've got to buy the vodka. This'll be just pop the top, ready to go. We'll do a Bloody Maria with tequila, we'll do one with gin and we'll probably do one with a smoked whiskey.
What's your favourite McClure's product?
Since I'm around it every day, whatever's new is what I like the most. I've been packing these garlic dill pickles for eight years now, non-stop - I'm not eating them. I think when we come out with the new products, though, I'll be drinking plenty of Micheladas.