Whiskey and Brine

Cocktail lends new meaning to ‘getting pickled’
Pickleback shot
The pickleback, a two-part experience made up of a shot of whiskey followed by a pull on pickle juice, has long been touted as a hangover cure. Its popularity spiked after 2006 when a New York bartender gave the double-shot cocktail its name. Photo by Steven Gray.

Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, is credited with coining the phrase, “Everything old is new again.”

These days, that adage applies to the double-shot cocktail known as the pickleback, comprising a dose of whiskey followed by one of pickle brine.

“Chasing whiskey with pickle brine really is nothing new; it’s long been one of those hair-of-the-dog remedies for hangovers,” writes Colleen Gram at The Spruce Eats website. “Yet, it wasn’t until 2006 that Brooklyn, New York, bartender Reggie Cunningham gave the shot its now famous name. After that, it didn’t take long for the drink to become a hit and spread across the U.S. and beyond.”

Nate Montgomery, beverage manager at Seville Quarter in Pensacola, said that Irish whiskeys are among the most popular accompaniments for the salty tang of a pickle juice chaser — like Jameson, Tullamore Dew or Bushmills — but some choose a Tennessee whiskey like Jack Daniels. And others opt for different liquors altogether.

In Tallahassee, bar manager Tim Niederquell at Smitty’s Taphouse and Grill said he is quite familiar with the cocktail.

“The majority of the time that it is requested is with Jameson but not always,” Niederquell said. “Sometimes people request tequila or a different whiskey, maybe a cheaper whiskey.” 

“But you definitely want to use a harsher whiskey; that’s kind of the point of it,” Montgomery mentioned, as the strong notes of vinegar combat the intensity of the liquor while still providing pleasant flavors for pickle enthusiasts.

“Most of the people who order it are service-industry people who are well-versed in liquor,” he added. “And when other people see them it’s like, ‘Oh, what is that?’ And they’ll try it. It’s unique, and that’s why people order it.”

And requests come from a fairly broad range of customers.

“From a fresh 21-year-old to a 65-year-old man,” Niederquell said. “I would say that the pickleback is 100% for everyone.”

Original Pickle Shot vodkas

Original Pickle Shot vodkas are marketed in dill, spicy and sweet flavors. The product debuted in Maryland and Delaware in 2020 and is now marketed in 24 states, including Florida. Photo by Steven Gray.

Niederquell is quite a fan of pickle brine himself.

“It’s good for you, and it quenches your thirst completely,” he said. “I take shots of pickle juice all the time because it tastes delicious.

“In my opinion, the best is straight dill,” he said. “The diller the juice, the iller the shot!”

If a patron were to ask for a description of the pickleback experience, Niederquell finds it best to show rather than tell, readily responding, “Right on! Let’s do it. What do you want to shoot it with?”

In the past year, liquor stores have begun to carry Original Pickle Shot vodkas in dill, spicy and sweet flavors.

Justin and Brittney Acita, owners of Pickles Pub in Ocean City, Maryland, developed that product. John King runs the company that makes and distributes it.

“The brine we use is our trade secret,” King said, “but it uses real ingredients, real color and no added flavor. It’s real brine used along with a five-times-distilled Iowa corn vodka.”

Original Pickle Shot debuted in Maryland and Delaware in 2020 and is now marketed in 24 states, including Florida.

The product is 30 proof, and King said that there is a reason it does not have higher alcohol content.

“Too much alcohol would crush the taste,” King said. “And we already know you can’t fool pickle people. We learned that when we were serving 10,000 shots a year at Pickles Pub.” 

Categories: Drinks