Yes, There Are Already Bold Alternatives To The “Pickleback”

A few years ago, a simple (albeit strange) drink combination began trending in the bar world. The pickleback phenomenon consisted of an odd take on the classic boilermaker. But, instead of a beer followed by a shot of whiskey, the pickleback consists of whiskey chased by a shot of pickle juice (the pickle is at the back. Get it?). Now, science will tell you that drinking pickle juice is full of anti-oxidants, prevents dehydration, help relieve cramps, kills harmful stomach bacteria, and even helps to sooth blistered sunburns. But, now of these healthy reasons had anything to do with the trend.

Like all cocktails and alcohol trends, there’s an interesting story about its genesis. Back in 2006, bartender Reggie Cunningham was working at the Bushwick Country Bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A southern customer came and sat at the bar and told Cunningham about a tradition of imbibing a shot of whiskey, directly followed by a shot of pickle juice. Cunningham might not have technically invented the combination, but he did name it. The Bushwick Country Club version consists of Old Crow bourbon and pickle juice procured from a jar of McClure’s spicy pickles.

But, since the combination has now been around for more than a decade, it’s only natural that bartenders would create their own unique versions.

Jack Daniel’s and Olive Juice

Bartender Eric “ET” Tecosky of Jones Hollywood’s version of the iconic pickleback doesn’t contain pickle juice at all. He switches it out for olive juice. But, like the original, the drink is simply a shot of Jack Daniel’s with a ½ ounce of Dirty Sue Premium Olive Juice (bottled, twice-filtered, no bartender hands in the juice).

“Whenever I’m developing a drink and thinking about flavor combinations, there are usually a couple different ways I go: Birds of a feather or opposites attract,” says Tecosky about the pairing. “In this case opposites attract worked perfectly.” He believes the smooth finish of the Jack pairs perfectly with the salty olive juice. “Scientifically speaking, it just works.”

Originally, Tecosky has only seen picklebacks being served in Irish pubs. “We never had a call for it until one night a group of guys ordered a round.” He didn’t have any pickle juice on hand, but he had plenty of Dirty Sue. He figured that the olive juice would work because both brines have similar properties and flavors and people love olives as much as they love pickles. The choice of whiskey was easy for Tecosky as the bar is a big fan of the iconic whiskey and they thought the two would pair well together.

“I presented the shots as if we did it every day,” says Tecosky. He figured they would go over well because if people already enjoy picklebacks, what would stop them from enjoying an oliveback? “They toasted and took the shots and I heard the first guy say, ‘Better than a pickle back.’ Another guy agreed so it seemed only right that we tried one ourselves.” Obviously, that was not that last oliveback Tecosky has imbibed. “The funny thing is that about a year later I was at a whiskey bar downtown and the bartender was telling me they had the same issue and same solution. Looks like the East Coast/West Coast battle has a new forum.”

Armagnac and Pickled Cauliflower/Broccoli/Green Bean Juice

Tecosky might have tweaked the famous drink a little, but other bartenders are turning the drinking completely on its head. That is the case with Shaun Cole, bartender at The Edmon in Hollywood, California. At his bar, they serve a drink called the Pickle-Armagnback that consists of a shot of Tariquet Bas “Classique” VS Armagnac with ½ ounce juice from house-made pickled cauliflower/broccoli/green beans. “There’s an earthiness to both components of the drink that works really well,” says Cole. “The Armagnac is dried fruit and spiciness, with supple sweetness. The juice has a soft bite with chile and peppercorn rounded off by a cured meat flavor.”

The chef at The Edmonds discovered the combination towards the end of the shift he was sipping on a new bottle of Armagnac. One of his cooks asked him to test the pickle-ness of the vegetables for the restaurant’s charcuterie offering and he loved it.

Wild Turkey 101 and Orange Juice

We’ve seen whiskey paired with olive juice and Armagnac paired with pickled vegetables, but bourbon paired with orange juice? That’s exactly what they’re serving at Reserve 101 in Houston, Texas. The drink is as literal as the title. It consists of a shot of Wild Turkey 101 and a shot of orange juice.

“While I’d love to paint a sexy picture of how the deep char in the barrel melds well with the freshly squeezed Florida oranges, that’s not exactly the truth,” says Jace Van Hoozer, bartender at Reserve 101.” If we get down to brass tacks, people chase Turkey with OJ because after muscling through a couple of shots of Turkey, the Turkey will not be denied, and you end up making the same face you’d make if you walked in on your grandmother naked”

Sometimes, whiskey can make the “art of playing it cool” very difficult in general, much less the added punch of a shot of 101. So, I’ve found that the thick citrus rush of a small glass of orange juice allows even the novice to look like a seasoned pro after a shot.” He finds that most people prefer this over having their face involuntarily contort like they just bit into a lemon without being prepared.