As legend has it (or Wikipedia, which is basically legend), Reggie Cunningham coined the term pickleback at Bushwick Country Club in Brooklyn in 2006. Such a weird but simple idea, the type which you swear maybe you tried once or twice long before 2006 but were too drunk to really recall. But you probably didn't: Rob Magill, co-owner of Whiskey Town and its family of bars in New York, also believes that "the latest craze of pickle juice that inspired everything from cheap shots to high-end cocktails" goes back to Cunningham, so let's just settle it and say Cunningham is the genius that came up with the idea.
The pickleback is simple: a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle brine, that's it. And in just ten years it has become a familiar pairing with bartenders around the world. But as they're finding out, pickle brine can be used for more than just shots, and maybe should become a permanent part of your bar. We asked Magill and Filip Keuppens of the Pickle Juice Company about how to integrate the ingredient into more than just shots — though those aren't so bad on their own.
Stay With Strong Pairings… But Not Too Strong
Keuppens says the original pickle-brine-and-whiskey combo can be traced back to Texas, where pickle brine is also often paired with tequila. "Perhaps you need a strong flavor to be able to pierce through the alcohol," he says. Magill says pickle brine can work as a chaser to pretty much any liquor, as long as it's savory. "Vodka, gin, whiskey, and tequila work, but not flavored vodkas unless it's a vegetable-flavored vodka or infusion." However, Magill stays away from heavily smoky scotches. Rum may not also be the best choice given how sweet it often is, though the Flaming Toad combines Bacardi 151 and pickle brine to some success.
Keep it Salty
The main appeal of a pickleback is that the pickle brine is an incredibly effective chaser, instantly neutralizing the burn of any alcohol. According to Magill, "It suppresses some flavors, which is why people who never drink whiskey or like it enjoy a pickleback." Magill attributes that to the salt in the brine, so avoid using vinegar-based pickle brines. But other than that, you can use the brine from most commercial pickles (Whiskey Town often used McClure's), or make your own.
Hair of the Dog
The Pickle Juice Company originated as a sports beverage company, after figuring out the properties in pickle brine help with muscle cramps and restore electrolytes like other, sweet sports drinks. With that in mind, pickle brine could be an excellent addition to the classic hair of the dog cocktail, the Bloody Mary. But it has other utilizations, from a replacement for the olive juice in a dirty martini or a Pickled Surfer, made with whiskey, pickle brine, lime juice and old bay. With those as options, who even needs the pickles?
Rita Moreno (courtesy Rob Magill)
- 2 oz vodka
- 1 oz pickle Juice
- 3 dashes Tabasco or more if desired
- dash of dry vermouth
- Wash glass with dry vermouth, fill with ice, add ingredients
- Shake, garnish with pickle slices or other pickled veggies and serve.