1 package (1/4 oz) active dry yeast (or instant yeast)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar, divided
1/4 cup warm water (110 to 155 degrees)
1 cup warm milk ( 110 to 115 degrees)
2 1/2 to 3 cup flour
6 cups water
4 teaspoons baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 to 2 tablespoons course salt
Combine yeast, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, and warm water in a large bowl. Set aside until foamy, 5 to 8 minutes. (If using instant yeast, you can skip this step and just add it to the flour). In another bowl, stir together the remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar and warm milk until dissolved.
Add 2 1/2 cups flour and milk mixture to the yeast. Stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Add the remaining flour as needed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly surface and gently knead a few times, forming a smooth ball.
Brush the inside of a large clean bowl with olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm, draft free area for about 2 hours, until dough has doubled in size and bubbles appear on the surface.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into four equal pieces. Lightly dust your hands with flour. Roll one of the four sections into a 12 inch rope. Cut into 12, 1 1/2 inch pieces and transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining 3 portions of the dough.
Let rest, uncovered, at room temperature for 30 minutes. (If using instant yeast, skip this step).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring six cups of water to a boil. Add the baking soda and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Boil pretzels in batches, cooking about 20 seconds each, turning once. They should be slightly puffed. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them back to the baking sheets.
Bake until puffed and golden-brown, about 15 minutes.
Brush warm pretzel bites with melted butter and sprinkle with salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.