Pickle Back

on 17 November, 2011

We’re all interested in ‘what’s going to be next?’ Well I returned recently from New York where, courtesy of Pernod Ricard/Irish Distillers I witnessed the launch of Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel. Apparently the brand kicked off in the US in Brooklyn so the new limited edition ‘dialled up’ Jameson was launched there and at the moment it is only available there...

Anyway, Jäger bombs appear to be history in the Big Apple.  Pickle Back is where it is at. The concept is a shot of whiskey – yes it seems to have to be Irish and a measure of pickle juice. Yeap, the vinegar or whatever you marinate your pickles in. The idea is the pickle juice reduces or shields the palate from the dreaded burn. Is that a problem?

Anyway, I discussed it initially with Paul Hamilton of the Breslin bar in the über chic ‘industrial’ Ace hotel on 20 West, 29th Street in Manhattan where the Irish Distillers party was holed up.

I needed further and better particulars so we can be ahead of the curve. Katipai Wilson, head bartender at the Breslin, came back to me. She said: “When we opened we did a lot of careful ‘research’ and decided that Jameson was what worked best with our pickle juice. Other bars do it with different whiskeys (mostly Irish though I've found) but when you order a Pickleback at the Breslin it will always be Jameson.”

The Breslin charges 10 bucks for a Jameson. It also stocks JW Black Label ($14) and Chivas ($11).

Pickle Back? “$11 - we upcharge for the juice,” said Katipai.
“The way I like to pour it is shot of Jameson (1 1/2 oz) quickly followed by shot of pickle juice (1oz). The idea is that the sour saltiness takes the sting out of whiskey. Much like lime and salt do for tequila. I pour a little less pickle juice just because people generally end up doing a lot of these and the acidity can beat you up a bit after while.”
Asked who makes it, the kitchen or the bar staff, she replied: “We serve house made pickles with certain dishes through the restaurant and hotel. The brine is a natural by-product of the pickling process (it's almost like nose-to-tail drinking). With the popularity of the Pickleback we had to up production a little when we first opened!

“Our pickles use a little chilli and dill along with other spices. Unfortunately the recipe is a house secret so that's as much as I can let you know. When the cucumbers are finished pickling (around 3-4 weeks) they drain off the majority of the juice which we then store and use as we need.

Who drinks Pickle Back?

“I wouldn't say there's a specific demographic attached to it. Definitely groups. Non-whiskey drinkers like the pickle finish and whiskey drinkers like the fact that they feel like they can have another one almost immediately. Probably more men than woman, but I think that it's true of our clientele that while more woman are drinking whiskey now, men still dominate that group. The same applies for shot taking. And I find that it can always be shot o'clock when it comes to Pickle Backs,” said Katipai

Is this something new and will it last?
“It's a resurrected thing that has grown incredibly popular in New York in the last 3-4 years. There was an article either in the Times or New York magazine recently that gave a pretty great history and breakdown of it.

“Apparently truck drivers drank them back in the day because all the salt from the juice curbed their need to pee so often. As far as replacing Jäger bombs, we don't serve Red Bull or Jägermeister at the bar so I can't really speak on that but I always recommend a Pickle Back when somebody orders that. Generally our clientele is a little older though so we don't get a lot of requests for those.
“I'm pretty sure it came from somewhere down south, but definitely has enjoyed a resurgence here. TJ Lynch, a former Breslin bartender, is widely credited with it's comeback. There was an article on him in the NY post a couple of years ago.”

So there you have it. Pickle Back.

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