Pickle juice shots or picklebacks, as they are popularly known, are quite a rage in bars globally. Simply put, a pickleback is a shot of whisky (originally, but other spirits like vodka, gin, and tequila are also used barring flavoured or infused spirits) followed by a shot of pickle brine.
So, don't be surprised to walk into a bar and find a group chasing a shot of whisky with a shot of pickle brine. Shocked? Well, you have to try it to believe how perfectly they complement each other. Pickle brine with its acidic note works wonders to cut down the heat from the whisky, leaving behind a smoky flavour on your tongue. As such, you almost forget the potency of whisky as you chase down shot after shot, only to realise minutes later that you have had more than you perhaps should have. Yes, it's very deceptive.
How Did it All Start?
A bartender named Reggie Cunningham of The Bushwick Country Club in Brooklyn is credited for coining the term 'pickleback', after meeting a Southerner at the bar who introduced him to the age-old practise of chasing a shot of whisky with a shot of pickle. The story goes that sometime in the year 2006, as he sat at the bar relishing a pickle, a "Southern chick" asked him for a shot of the pickle brine to accompany her whisky. As strange as it seemed, he obliged her, but not without letting his curiosity get the better of him. He had to try it to know for certain that it could pair well, and after repeated shots, Reggie was more than convinced.
He was so amused with the pairing that it sparked the idea of introducing pickle shots at the bar. And it proved to be a smashing hit, whereon it caught the fancy of several bars across the globe.
But it's not completely a 'new thing'. Apparently the Russians have been chasing vodka shots with pickle brine, as well as the Mexicans with their tequila shots. In Southern America too, pickle shots are commonly paired with whisky. While Old Crow has been the popular choice of bourbon whisky for this whisky-pickle pairing, Jameson is topping the charts in urban bars.
The Pickle Shots
While pickles hold a prestigious spot in the Indian store cupboard with our extensive repertoire, for this drink, it's not really the masala-based type that's the centre of attention. If you have your refrigerator filled with jars of gherkins, olives, cocktail onion, cucumber or dill then you are in luck. Don't let the brine go to the trash can as you usually would. Shoot some picklebacks instead!
Pickling is a simple way to preserve vegetables or fruits and other foods using salt, water and sometimes vinegar. The pickle juice or brine is what remains once the pickles are removed.
"The different brines that can be used for a pickleback are olives, gherkins, jalapenos, etc. In my opinion, the best pairings are usually with Jim Beam or Jameson. Our pickleback shot is made with equal quantities of pickle brine and Jim Beam," says Vikram Pal, Head Bartender at PCO.
Mixologist Nitin Tewari of Ek Bar says, "You can use a variety of ingredients to make different pickle water. Some popular ingredients that can be used are cucumber, gherkins, bell pepper, beetroot, dill, basil, rosemary etc. In Ek Bar, we make in-house pickle water using different herbs and vegetables but they all have an Indian story as the backdrop. For example, the Kanji pickleback, where a tequila shot is chased with a shot of beetroot kanji pickle water. Or the Sol Kadi pickleback, where we use the same ingredients used in the drink Sol Kadi (kokam, coconut and salt) to make pickle water."
Different brines have different flavours, and as such there are numerous ways you can play around with the whisky-pickle brine pairing. While dill brine has been one of the most popular choices, olive or relish brines too work equally well. You can even add a few whole spices or fresh herbs to spruce up the flavour, or some Tobasco and Asian seasonings for some kick.How to Have a Pickle Shot?
It's simple. Here are our two favourite recipes for picklebacks -
1. Smooth Criminal
This pickleback recipe pairs gherkin pickle juice and bourbon whisky along with the zing of parsley. The flavours blend extremely well to make it a deceptively 'subtle' drink.
30 ml gherkin pickle juice
30 ml Jim Beam
1/4 tsp parsley, very finely chopped
1. Mix the parsley and gherkin pickle juice and pour it into a shot glass.
2. Pour the whisky into another shot glass.
3. Have the shot of whisky, immediately followed by the shot of pickle water.
2. The Firestarter
Vodka and chilli make a perfect pair. In this pickleback recipe, the duo get together to create quite a havoc along with dill pickle juice.
30 ml dill pickle juice
30 ml vodka
1 bird's eye chilli, halved
1. Mix the dill herbs, chilli and dill pickle juice and pour it into a shot glass.
2. Pour the vodka into another shot glass.
3. Have the shot of vodka, immediately followed by the shot of pickle water.