“I’ll take a gin and tonic,” my best friend Maddy said to the waiter at our favorite restaurant. He then turned to me and asked, “And what will you have?” Like always, my mind went completely blank. At the time, I couldn’t stand the taste of alcohol, so I didn’t know what drinks I liked and, thus, had no idea what to order at bars and restaurants.
“Uhhhh,” I stuttered, racking my brain for any drink I could order that didn’t make me want to gag. This happens every time. I had recently come of drinking age, and I was too proud to ask for a drink menu yet too naive to know the names of any drink orders. It didn’t help that that the waiter was extremely cute, making it hard to make any decisions at all, particularly one this challenging.
“Just surprise me,” I finally croaked, thankful the awkward silence could end.
“Okay, but you asked for it,” he responded with a wink that left me with a strange feeling. Usually when I asked waiters to surprise me, they brought me a nice wine or the restaurant’s specialty drink, but something made me think it would be different this time.
“What the hell is this?” I thought to myself as the waiter placed two shot glasses in front of me, one filled with whiskey and the other with something eerily similar looking to urine.
“I present to you the pickleback shot,” he stated with a grand hand gesture. “One glass contains whiskey, Jameson, of course, and the other pickle brine.”
“And I’m supposed to drink that?” I responded, pointing to the pickle brine.
“Yeah, my regulars love it. It’s a thing, I promise. Here, I’ll take one with you,” he replied. I wasn’t going to say no to shots with the cute waiter, so I pushed aside my disgust and mentally prepared myself to chase a shot with pickle brine.
I hate shots. The thought of drinking liquid poison does not appeal to me, and the only thing less appealing than that is the idea of chasing it with pickle brine. I thought about backing out, but I took a deep breath and braced myself.
I threw the Jameson down my throat, cringing as the as the alcohol stung the back of my neck. I immediately chased it with the pickle brine, letting the salty, bitter liquid soothe the burning sensation. Not bad, I thought to myself. The shot was strong but the pickle juice was so potent that it made the shot bearable in its own special way. Unlike sugary soft drinks, it had a flavor that truly disguised the alcohol. It was perfect for someone who hated the taste of liquor – someone like me.
“What weirdo thought of this?” I asked the waiter after recovering from the shot.
“I don’t know, but I would like to thank him for this stroke of genius,” he replied.
So now I wonder who did create the pickleback, and what exactly is the narrative behind this strange combination? Determined to answer these questions, I searched every nook and cranny of the world-wide-web to find the interesting, but brief, history of the pickleback.
It happened in 2010 at Bushwick Country Club, an old dive bar in Brooklyn (Vermillion 2017). Former employee Reggie Cunningham was bartending while eating pickles in an attempt to nurse a brutal hangover (Vermillion 2017). A customer dared him take a shot of Old Crow Bourbon chased with pickle juice, and, to his surprise, Reggie liked it (Vermillion 2017).
The bartender began marketing the pair to his customers, coining it a “pickleback” (Vermillion 2017). The pair was such a success that he was able to charge an extra dollar just for the addition of the pickle brine – something the restaurant would usually just throw away (Vermillion 2017). After that, the pickleback began making appearances in bars and restaurants across the nation (Vermillion 2017).
There is controversy over whether Reggie Cunningham invented the combination or simply coined the term (Saxena 2016). Since the 18th century, it has been common for Russians to accompany vodka shots with a zakusk, or a snack usually consisting of foods like potatoes, onion, and, of course, pickles (Buettner 2013). While some argue the practice of chasing whiskey with pickle juice originated in Latin America, where it is common to mix tequila with pickle brine (Saxena 2016).
However, the narrative does not stop here, as millennials, hipsters, and bartenders everywhere are creating spinoffs of the classic pickleback. For instance, when their kitchen ran out of pickle juice, Chef Sasha Pogrebinsky of Starlight restaurant in Brooklyn, New York invented something she calls the melonback, which is a shot of tequila followed by juice from a pickled watermelon rind (Spiegel 2016). Though not as popular as the pickleback itself, the melonback is served at the Bushwick Country Club (the home of the pickleback) right around the corner (Spiegel 2016). Using the pickleback as its muse, another restaurant in Brooklyn, Black Rabbit created the gingerback, which involves chasing a shot of bourbon with fresh ginger, bourbon, and lemon (Richardson 2017). However, in my opinion, the most repulsive derivative of the pickleback is called The Tigerback and can be found at Lucky Luna, a Mexican-Taiwanese inspired restaurant in Brooklyn, which is a shot of rye whiskey followed by their signature dumpling sauce (Richardson 2017).
On top of guising the alcohol taste, taking shots with pickle juice is beneficial to your health. Well, relatively speaking. Often used as a hangover cure, the salt in pickle juice is believed to replenish electrolytes, thus curing and sometimes even preventing hangovers (Vermillion 2017). On top of this, research shows that drinks with a vinegar base relieve muscle pain and cramping. Due to its electrolyte-replenishing skills, picklebacks are the healthiest way to drink. Well, at least that’s what I like to tell myself.
Since discovering the pickleback, I have found my drink of choice, and, sorry, but it’s not the pickleback. It’s a simple mix of Crown Royal and diet coke. However, on the rare case that I do order a shot, it will always be a pickleback. Everyone should try this contemporary drink, or at least some form of it, as, though it is not mine, it could be someone’s drink of choice.
Buettner, Lisa. “You Eat What with your Vodka?” Ustianochka. 2013.
Richardson, Nikita. “The New Picklebacks: 7 Shot Combos That Go Beyond the Brine.” Bon Appetit. 2017.
Spiegel , Alison. “We’re Bringing Pickles Back.” Tasting Table, 2016.
Saxena, Jaya. “Why You Should Mix Pickle Juice with Your Whiskey and Tequila.” Men’s Journal. 2016.
Vermillion, Stephanie. “A Brief History of the Pickleback Shot.” Mental Floss. 2017.
Featured image from: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/886564
Bushwick and pickleback image from: http://bushwickcountryclub.com