Pickleback

It’s no secret that New Yorkers love a pickle... even as a chaser to a whiskey!

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It’s no secret that New Yorkers love a pickle; with their hotdogs, in their sandwiches and even – as it turns out – as a chaser to their whiskey. The Pickleback, a shot of whiskey chased down with a shot of pickle brine, simply shouldn’t work. Even the bartender credited with its popularisation – Reggie Cunningham of Brooklyn dive bar Bushwick Country Club – was initially revolted by the idea, until he tried one in 2006.

“We were storing pickles for the McClure’s [pickle] guys in the basement when they first started their Brooklyn operations,” Reggie said in an interview with Toby Cecchini, for The New York Times Style Magazine. “I was just munching on some one night when this gravelly-voiced Southern chick asked for a shot of the juice alongside her whiskey. I said, ‘No way,’ but she made me have one with her, and I think I had, like, a dozen that night. Totally cured a cold I had, and no hangover. It took off like hell from there. That one drink totally cemented the bar.”

From Reggie’s epiphany, the Pickleback swiftly conquered New York, eventually spreading across the English-speaking world. Yet he’s pretty candid about the fact that he didn’t originate the idea. In Texas, for example, pickle brine has long been drunk with tequila, and in Russia vodka is often served with a gherkin. Even in terms of the whiskey/brine pairing, Philadelphians often claim to have the jump on their New York neighbours.

But undoubtedly the more interesting question is why this flavour combination works so well. At the most basic level, it’s the salt, which is incredibly effective in neutralising alcohol burn for those not accustomed to knocking back neat spirits (think of a tequila slammer). But there’s also something about the savoury spices, particularly dill, which turns the fiery kiss of a good whiskey into a one-two punch of flavour. Just don’t expect to taste anything else afterward. Or to get lucky.

Although the pickleback’s fame has spread far and wide, it will always be most closely associated with New York, and no boozy tour would be complete without sampling this unlikely delicacy. Here’s our selection of the best spots to get yourself into a pickle.

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The Bushwick Country Club

618 Grand St

The place that started it all. Sample the ‘OG’ pickleback, with Old Crow bourbon and spicy pickle brine made by Bob McClure himself.

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The Anchored Inn

57 Waterbury St 

This nautically-themed Williamsburg gem is well known for its inventive bar snacks, including a lip-smacking selection of home-made pickles. And where there are pickles, there are picklebacks aplenty. Ahoy.

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The Crocodile Lounge 

325 E 14th St 

If you’re more about riffing on the classics, The Crocodile Lounge offers custom picklebacks, such as the fiery Dirty Sanchez: made with Espolon tequila and jalapeño-pickle juice.

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Hair of the Dog

Outside of London, where the Pickleback was popularised by the excellent Pit Cue BBQ, the best place to pick one up is (believe it or not) Aberdeen. The craze started when employees of Brewdog, fresh from a visit to the Big Apple, insisted that their home city’s taproom start making them for staff. Word spread, other bars began making their own versions, and the rest is history.


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