McSweet’s Pickled Cocktail Onions make the perfect Gibson (a martini with cocktail onions instead of olives or lemon peel). Photo by Philip Pellat | IST.



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KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.



August 2007

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Vegetables

Gourmet Cocktail Onions & Garlic

McSweet Improves The Cocktail & The Relish Tray With Outstanding Pickled Vegetables


CAPSULE REPORT: The cocktail space has never been hotter. The last few years have seen the growth of gourmet cocktail mixers. Then came premium cocktail sodas. Now, the cocktail onion and cocktail garlic have been given the gourmet go-over. We couldn’t be happier: McSweet Pickled Cocktail Onions are so delicious, we’d eat them without a martini! As for the garlic, we can’t think of a tastier way to ward off bar hound Draculas. Many fans order these wonderful specialty garnishes by the case, and we would concur. Far beyond cocktails, we’ve been enjoying them in everything from sandwiches to pizza. You can order a free sample on the website, but don’t delay gratification: Go for the entire jar!

One of the most exciting things we tasted at this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show were....cocktail onions? Pickled garlic? Indeed!

McSweet’s are cocktail onions with a history. They were launched in 1990 by hospitality professional and martini buff, Leo McIntyre. Leo had worked as a club, bar and restaurant manager in the late 1940s and 1950s—the heyday of the martini—with a celebrity clientele that included Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gabby Hayes, Pat O’Brien, Hedda Hopper and Raymond Burr. But decades later, he was unable to find the type of sweet, crunchy cocktail onions he remembered from those early years.

Leo searched the U.S. for a sweet cocktail onion, to no avail. One day, he was served a martini with a home-canned sweet onion, and was inspired (a martini with an onion is known as a Gibson). In 1988, he began to work with a food chemist on a commercially viable cocktail onion. It took a year and a half, but McSweet Pickled Cocktail Onions are definitely worth it. After many years in service to the martini, Leo retired and Jim McCaslin is now helping Americans enjoy better cocktails.

McSweet Pickled Cocktail Onions

Once you taste these cocktail onions, all others will seem like styrofoam. Sweet and crunchy, they are just perfect: delicate young pearl onion flavor and a light pickling, with just the tiniest bit of sweetness. And less than three calories apiece—that’s practically “free” on the calorie counter. The temptation is to eat the entire jar.

You won’t question that these cocktail onions gathered a cult following in McSweet’s home turf of Seattle, where they were first served at fine hotels and restaurants. Out-of-town visitors discovered them and asked to buy them by mail, and a “side” business was born. Today, thanks to online sales and specialty food stores, no one need be without the perfect cocktail onion.

McSweet Pickled Cocktail Onions
Perfect pickled onions. Product photos by Michael Steele.

But, you can do much more than use these onions for cocktails, as you’ll see in the Serving Suggestions section below.

McSweet Pickled Garlic

Some people like their martinis with a garlic-stuffed olive. With a clove of pickled garlic, they can do so much better. Pickled garlic is a true specialty item, and can be hard to come by. McSweet’s are a very fine item. The recipe adapts the pickling brine and includes a kick of red pepper flakes. The pickling mellows the garlic while adding dimensions from the vinegar and sweetener. So, imagine garlic, vinegar, sweetness and heat in one bite. It’s addictive! We’re not “garlic people,” yet we ate the entire jar in two days—might we hasten to say, not in martinis. We enjoyed tossing these sweet-and-spicy garlic cloves into almost every food we cooked, from breakfast to lunch to dinner. And, yes, maybe a cocktail or two.

McSweet Pickled Garlic
Gorgeous pickled garlic. Other companies just filter tap water.

Gourmet Olive Bliss

For a non-sweet nibble, McSweet added an excellent marinated olive recipe to the line. Some people are fortunate to live near specialty food stores that have delicious olive mixes. For those who don’t, keep a few jars of these on the shelf.

Bliss consists of five French olive varieties—standard green and black olives; Niçoise, a purplish-black olive with a distinctive tart flavor (similar to the Gaeta and the Kalamata); Picholine, a yellow-green torpedo-shaped olive (and a favorite for martinis); and tourantes, a brown olive. The variety of colors and the similar sizes looks inviting in the bowl. The mix is dressed in a fresh herbal oil marinade: canola and garlic oils seasoned with parsley, orange and lemon peels, garlic, thyme, a bit of vinegar and spices. The flavor-laden oil can be used as a bread dipper, salad dressing or a topping for chicken or fish. The olives themselves deliver pure, rich olive flavor without saltiness.

McSweet Gourmet Olives
Gourmet Olive Bliss.

Proprietor Jim McCaslin likes to serve the olives warm—heat them for a few seconds in the microwave—with a cocktail or a glass of wine. Even on a warm summer night, they taste delicious.

Serving Suggestions & Recipes

Beyond bowls of cocktail nibbles, there’s much to do with these three beauties:

Cocktails. Be the first on your block to serve a Garlic Martini, using cloves of pickled garlic instead of onions in your favorite martini recipe. Or make a “Garlic Gibson” by including one olive and one clove of garlic. Create what we call a Blazing Martini (like a Dirty Martini). The recipe: Add 2 tablespoons of the spicy pickled garlic brine to the martini (2 ounces of gin or vodka, 1 tablespoon vermouth), and garnish with with 2 pickled garlic cloves.

Relish Tray. The relish tray is back in a retro-chic way. Make yours with McSweet Cocktail Onions, Pickled Garlic and Gourmet Olive Bliss...and substitute fennel for that celery!

Sandwiches. Stick a toothpick or cocktail skewer through some onions and/or garlic cloves and spear it into the sandwich. Or, add sliced cloves onto the sandwiches themselves—anything from ham and cheese to roast beef with horseradish sauce.

String Bean Salad
Add slices of pickled garlic cloves to salads, sandwiches, pizzas and other dishes. Photo by Pawel Strykowski | IST.

Hors d’Oeuvres. Similarly, add onions and garlic cloves to hors d’oeuvres skewers, along with cubes of cheese, meat, vegetables and grapes or other fruit. Add them to canapes: a bread base with meat or seafood, a dab of sauce and an onion or slice of garlic.

Salads & Vegetable Dishes. Use pickled onions and whole garlic cloves or slivers to enliven green salads, vegetable salads (like the green bean, onion and pine nut salad above), steamed or grilled vegetables.

Pasta & Pizza. Toss pickled garlic onto pizza and into pasta (we enjoyed it with a simple red sauce as well as plain butter and olive oil).

Omelets & Eggs. Toss onions and/or garlic into the mix, or serve them on the side as garnish.

As with all cooking, follow your palate: You’ll find more uses than you could ever imagine, looking at that quiet jar.


Pickled Cocktail Onions, Pickled Garlic, Gourmet Olive Bliss

  • Pickled Onions
    16-Ounce Bottle
    $8.95 (Includes Shipping)
    $49.00 Case Of 12*
  • Pickled Garlic
    8-Ounce Bottle
    $8.95 (Includes Shipping)
    $40.00 Case Of 12*
  • Pickled Olive Bliss
    16-Ounce Bottle
    $10.95 (Includes Shipping)
    $68.00 Case Of 12*

*Shipping for cases is additional.


Cocktail Onions

Purchase online at or telephone 1.877.627.9338. Also available at fine retailers nationwide.

Prices and flavor availability are verified at publication but are subject to change.