Pickles are, without a doubt, the best possible snack, side meal, or refreshing treat for any occasion. Hear me out. I eat one to several pickles each day, so I’ve done the research. (Not pickle slices, the whole dill.) There is absolutely nothing better in this world than a crunchy, sour pickle made fresh and prepared with love. I’d stake my name on it.
When Sonic announced that it would be introducing a limited edition slush that would be pickle flavored, my heart leapt for joy. The internet, overwhelmingly, did not feel the same way, but I guess I was coming from a place of hope. Perhaps someone in the Sonic kitchen had the same relationship with pickles as me, I thought. Perhaps a Pickle Juice Slush had the potential to convince people to incorporate more pickles into their lives, undoubtedly a good thing.
To start with the basics: The first thing about pickles is that they should be sour or spicy, not sweet. Bread and butter pickles are an abomination. Relish doesn’t do it for me. Hamburger pickles could be so much more. Have you ever seen a self-proclaimed “pickle lover” chomping on sweet pickles? Absolutely not. Sweet pickles taste like Stevia sprinkled over a kale salad. Certain things should simply be sweet, and others sour. If you’re going to leave cucumbers in vinegar to ferment in vinegar, don’t bother adding a ton of sugar. No one is going to eat one for dessert.
So, I had certain expectations. On a recent afternoon, I ventured to a Baltimore Sonic parking lot with my friend. We had just finished two days writing in the city, during which I honestly had trouble focusing on anything that wasn’t buying and drinking the Pickle Juice Slush. But when the slushie arrived, I immediately had a bad feeling. It was a fluorescent yellow-green, like radioactive urine. It was far too yellow and diluted to match up with the murky color of most good pickle brines, as the optimal pickle tone is a rich forest green. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but sometimes you know.
I was nervous as I took my first sip. My apprehension, it turned out, was deserved. It was sweet, like a weak fruit drink made from concentrate that barely tastes like the fruit flavor it claims to imitate. But after a few seconds, there was a relish-like aftertaste that lingered in my mouth. This drink wasn’t made for pickle lovers, I realized. It was not a liquid love letter to a snack that never lets you down. It was a disappointment, a pallid photocopy of the vibrant real thing. The people who engineered Sonic’s limited edition Pickle Slush drink did not come from a place of love and appreciation of pickles.
Chain restaurants have grown increasingly assertive about translating real world foods into the fast casual thing. Taco Bell turned the Dorito into a taco shell; Burger King turned the Cheeto into a chicken fry. Full disclosure, I have never tried any of these items. For one, they seem monstrously gross, and the brand-alliance marketing feels very heavy-handed. But their appeal is the possibility of fidelity: If it tastes close enough to the real thing, perhaps, hopefully, nobody will mind the experimentation.
But that did not happen with the Pickle Juice Slush, which attempts to serve too many masters — most of them, I assume, “marketing professionals” at Sonic headquarters who insist that the average consumer wants just another sweet thing, and not a sour beverage to perfectly offset the savory burgers. In their attempt to make a product to appeal to the most people, they made a drink that tastes like nothing. Any hack with a focus group can tell you what some people want, but a true genius gives the consumer what they didn’t even know they wanted. A true pickle-juice slushie would’ve caused a minor sensation amongst the masses; I’m sure of it.
Thankfully, there was not so much of it, and it was not so expensive. We finished the slushies, and registered our complaints. I don’t know what I expected. The slush has been described as having a “sweet yet tart sensation,” which I knew pulling into the Sonic parking space. Part of me must have hoped that Sonic was pandering to customers who prefer sweet Sonic slush flavors like Bahama Mama (coconut and pineapple-flavored) or Tiger's Blood (watermelon and strawberry-flavored). But according to my friend, the best Sonic drinks are Limeades, which are characterized by their tartness. Why couldn’t one good, sour green thing follow the next? We may never know.
Maybe someday, we’ll live in a world where self-proclaimed pickle-flavored things actually taste like pickles, and more people have 3-gallon tubs of sour pickles sitting in their refrigerators. I long for this day, but it’s not today. Maybe never.
The Sonic Board of Directors did not respond to request for comment.