Pickleback - Gastro Obscura



A bar sharing a basement with a pickle place led to an unusual drink.

Picklebacks, pisky whickles, pickle puffers … call them what you want, but a rose by any other name would smell just as sour. Following a shot of whiskey with a swig of pickle brine—the medley of vinegar, salt, water, and spices that you see pickles floating in—is a ritual that’s earned some die-hard fans.

Theories on the origins of the pickleback are conjectural, but the drinking habits of long-haul truckers in Texas offer one explanation. Truck drivers who are known to drink pickle juice after boozing say (alarmingly) that the salty brine reduces alcohol’s pressing effect on the bladder, enabling them to continue their route without making an extra pit stop. More generally, drinking pickle brine is common, if not widespread, in several countries, with many boozers crediting it as a hangover cure. 

The pickleback was introduced to bartender Reggie Cunningham at the Bushwick Country Club in 2006, when a “gravelly-voiced Southern chick” asked for pickle juice alongside her whiskey. Cunningham met the request with revulsion, but after the woman insisted he try the combination, he was hooked. In fact, the bartender claims to have had a dozen that night alone.

The Bushwick Country Club’s basement was already filled with jars of the brined goods from McClure’s Pickles, which operated next door, making the drink easy to concoct. Cunningham introduced the pickleback to fellow bartenders, who began holding what they referred to as “staff meetings.” This involved shooting back Old Crow whiskey and washing it down with the brine from McClure’s spicy dill pickles.

After eight months of curious customers inquiring about “staff meetings,” the Bushwick Country Club started peddling the pickleback, and the winning combination spread to nearby bars. The fervor that ensued brought the pickleback international popularity, particularly in the United Kingdom. Today, you can find picklebacks across the United States (though mostly in New York) as well as in a handful of bars around the world. Whiskey and pickle brine may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but hey, it’s worth a shot.

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