Increasingly around the country, bartenders are hearing the slightly odd question, “May I have a Pickleback?” The Pickleback is a two shot drink, thought to have originated in hipster bars in Brooklyn, but no one knows the exact origins of this drink. What is known is that the Pickle Back has become one of the hottest drinks in the country. Simply one shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey and a second shot of pickle juice, first you take the Jameson’s, folowed by the pickle juice. This drink is both surprising and tasty. Some cutting edge bars have begun to create their own signature pickle juice to pair with Jameson’s. Portland bartender Jacob Grier offers up pickled nectarine juice as his accompaniment, while NYC bartender TJ Lynch of the Breslin uses a pickle juice prepared by Quino Baca, co-owner of Momofuku.
When I asked TJ Lynch, who is New York City’s "Prophet of the Pickleback", how his customers react when he offers up the unusual shot of Jameson and a pickle juice chaser to his patrons, he said that he gets three reactions. “The most popular is that they think I’m kidding, followed by thinking I’m crazy and some people say that there is no way they are going to try it.” Luckily, Lynch is very persuasive and I can attest that the combination of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and pickle juice, while sounding odd, can be a delicious combination. Lynch attributes the success of the drink to Jameson’s slightly wood, sweet taste, which, combined with the pickle juice, leaves a rich, umami flavor on the palate. I will warn you, do not accept a pickle back without Jameson’s. Every substitution I have tried has had disastrous results. As for the pickle juice itself, I have tried everything from canned pickle juice in a neighborhood tavern to homemade pickle brine from Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak in Scottsdale and just about everything in between. I prefer a homemade brine, but the juice from commercial pickles works just fine. Just try to avoid brine from pickled beets, the combination ends up tasting like a week old sweatsock.
When I’m drinking Picklebacks, I usually choose a light lager beer like Dos Equis to complement the flavors. TJ Lynch prefers Tecate in the can with a bit of lime and salt, and Portland hipsters seem to go for the refreshing taste of Pabst Blue Ribbon. However you choose to enjoy your Pickleback, a light lager style beer will match it perfectly.
The Pickleback is simple to make at home, just one shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey and one shot of pickle juice from a Vlasic jar in the fridge will do fine. At a bar, you may need to coach the bartender on this one, but trust me its worth it. At the rate that this drink is spreading in popularity, it won’t be long before the Pickleback surpasses the Kamikaze in popularity.