How the Pickelback Became the People's Shot

From its humble Brooklyn beginnings, the pickleback—that is, rough whiskey chased with salty pickle juice—has become a bona fide global phenomenon.
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From its humble Brooklyn beginnings, the pickleback—that is, rough whiskey chased with salty pickle juice—has become a bona fide global phenomenon.
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Thanks to its palatability and simplicity—a jar of pickles, a jigger of whiskey, and you’re in business—the pickleback has graduated from novelty to ubiquity, a secret handshake for off-duty bartenders and clued-in drinkers alike. Since its 2006 birth at Brooklyn dive Bushwick Country Club (Old Crow + McClure’s pickle brine = awesome), it’s become a boozy-savory sensation. Today, you’ll find picklebacks everywhere from Chicago’s elevated Au Cheval to London’s down-home Pitt Cue Co.

“It’s for every occasion,” explains BCC’s John Roberts. “There’s just no bad time to have one.”

Reach for Rotgut

Picklebacks are perfect with most any whiskey, but since the assertive brine will obliterate nuances, skip pricey spirits and bend your knees for the bottom shelf. Old Crow, Benchmark, Old Grand-Dad, and Evan Williams Black Label are all excellent options. (Note: Some bartenders are getting uppity by using Bulleit, Jack Daniel’s, and, most commonly, Jameson.)

The Fifth Taste 

On your taste buds, the tango of booze and brine creates a pleasing flavor of umami—our super- savory fifth taste. It’s also found in Parmesan cheese, cured meats, and soy sauce.

Toast to Your Health

Next time a buzzkill questions why you downed six picklebacks, tell him it’s doctor’s orders: A recent study found that pickle juice can alleviate leg cramps. Fun fact: During a football game in 2013, Boise State running back Jay Ajayi was filmed slurping brine from a pickle-filled jar. To avoid Internet infamy, he should’ve sipped Pickle Juice Sport—which, sadly, is a real thing.

Get Juiced

When shopping for brine, “You don’t want liquid that looks like it’s radioactive,” says BCC’s Roberts, who recommends a “good-quality brine that’s garlicky and, preferably, spicy.” His pick: McClure’s spicy pickles, the hallowed juice used in the original pickleback.

Pole Position

Hung over? Perhaps the problem is too much whiskey, not enough brine. In Poland, pickle juice is a classic morning-after cure. It may not just be folklore: Vinegar’s acetic acid helps ravaged bodies retain fluid and, like a sponge, absorb the brine’s beneficial electrolytes and salt. 

Pickle Power

Have some leftover brine from your last pickleback bender? The salty ambrosia’s acidity makes it ideal for cleaning copper pans, tenderizing steaks, and even killing weeds. Seriously!

Photos by Levi Brown