The idea of pairing strong spirits with something salty and sour isn’t new. From the classic tequila-salt-lime combo to the Russian tradition of vodka with salted pickles, these pairings are global staples. The salt and acid mellow the spirit’s harshness, while intense flavors like garlic can handle the alcohol’s kick.
However, the specific “pickleback” pairing – whiskey with pickle brine – has a unique origin story. It was born on March 12, 2006, at Bushwick Country Club in New York. A woman saw bartender Reggie Cunningham munching on McClure’s Pickles and asked for pickle brine to accompany her whiskey shot.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Cunningham, now based in Nashville, credits Bushwick Country Club as the launching pad for the trend. It spread organically through the restaurant industry and is now globally recognized. John Roberts, the club’s owner, proudly points out that the pairing has even reached bars in the jungles of Central America.
Roberts holds a special pride for the pickleback’s origins at his venue, dismissing any claims that it existed prior.
How You Can Make a Pickleback
The pickleback is essentially a two-step shot: first, a shot of whiskey, followed immediately by a shot of pickle brine. Despite its simplicity, the combination has earned its place in the pantheon of classic chasers.
Here’s how you can make yours.
- 1 shot (about 1.5 ounces) of whiskey
- 1 shot (about 1.5 ounces) of pickle brine
- Two shot glasses
- Pickle jar (for the brine)
- Start by setting up your workspace. Place two shot glasses on a table or counter. One will hold the whiskey, and the other will hold the pickle brine.
- Open a bottle of your preferred whiskey. Any type will do, but something like Jameson is commonly used. Carefully pour the whiskey into one of the shot glasses, filling it to just below the rim.
- Open a jar of pickles and use a second shot glass to measure out an equivalent amount of pickle brine. Try to use high-quality pickle brine for the best experience. If you have different types of pickles, feel free to experiment to see which you prefer.
- With both shots prepared, you’re all set for the pickleback experience. First, take a shot of whiskey but don’t swallow it immediately. Swish it around in your mouth for a few seconds to fully savor its flavors.
- Immediately after swallowing the whiskey, chase it with a shot of pickle brine. The salty, tangy brine acts as both a palate cleanser and a flavor enhancer, neutralizing the burn of the alcohol while leaving a crisp, refreshing aftertaste.
Take a moment to enjoy the unique combination of flavors. You’ll likely find that the brine complements the whiskey in a way that is both surprising and delightful.
Whether you’re a pickle enthusiast, a whiskey aficionado, or just someone looking for a novel drinking experience, the pickleback is a quick and easy cocktail that’s worth a shot—literally.