In 2010, Coral Anne organized a Facebook campaign to find whether Facebook users preferred pickles over a Canadian rock band, Nickelback. According to The Guardian, Nickelback lost to the pickle by over 50,000 subscribers. Although it was for fun, the initiative showed just how much people love pickles such that even when the pickle brine was incorporated into the drinking culture, its popularity exploded. The Pickleback has a reputation worldwide for helping to cleanse the palate, and if you were wondering how it got its name, here’s the story.
A New Drink is Discovered
According to Punch, the story of the Pickleback began with Bob McClure’s request to store his pickles in a bar, Bushwick Country Club, below the apartment in which he lived. It so happened that McClure started his pickle company, McClure’s Pickles, in 2006 and had to work from his kitchen. Since he did not have enough space in his apartment to store the finished products, McClure asked Bushwick Country Club to allow him to keep the products in the basement. McClure was even kind enough to tell the bar owner, John Roberts, that they had his permission to use a case of the brine in their drinks. The go-ahead allowed the bar owner and bartender to use their creativity and added brine to some of their drinks. However, everything changed on March 12, 2006, when a regular at Bushwick Country Club asked the bartender, Reggie Cunningham, to pour her a shot of Old Crow and another shot of brine to chase it down. The woman wanted Cunningham to try the drink, but Cunningham had been eating pickles, perhaps trying to cure his hangover.
The bartender tried turning down the customer’s generous offer since he did not want to drink alcohol that night, but the regular insisted. Therefore, Cunningham also took a shot of Old Crow, followed by a shot of brine. It was the most amazing feeling, and Cunningham ended up joining the woman for drinks, taking one shot after another. By Monday, Cunningham had introduced the drink to the bar patrons, and they looked excited. When Roberts went to the bar, the bartender told him they should include it in the menu. Cunningham put it down as the Pickleback, but Roberts wanted him to change the name. However, the bartender explained that Pickleback was more appropriate, seeing that the pickle brine was a chaser to the shot of whisky. Consequently, Cunningham said that he may not have been the first person to drink whisky and brine side by side, but he prides himself today as the man who invented selling it in New York.
Pickleback Mania Begins
According to Tasting Table, people may have been drinking pickle juice for years, but Cunningham turned it into a global sensation. Still, it took a while before the drink became popular among New York pubs. It remained a closeted dink, preferred by bartenders who used it to cleanse the palate after mixing many drinks. T.J. Lynch, the owner of Mother’s Ruin in New York, even recalled that when the Pickleback came to the scene, he was at Rusty Knot. Lynch and his colleague, Joaquin Baca, would drink the shots but never served them in the bar until after about six months. Allegedly, Lynch introduced the Pickleback at Rusty Knot and also at The Breslin and in his bar, Mother’s Ruin, before taking it abroad in Moscow and Paris Bar Shows. That was all the fuel that the Pickleback needed to gain traction globally. However, the ingredients are not always McClure’s pickle juice or Old Crow, but the idea is the same whether in Canada, Japan, or Paris. For instance, as Maclean’s enlightens us, Brock Shepherd, a mixologist in Toronto, added it to the menu at Burger Bar & Tequila Tavern.
Shepherd was aware of the Pickleback mania that had increased after Justin Timberlake tipped $100 to a bartender who served him the drink. As a result, Shepherd noticed the advantage of having it on the menu and made his version with Jim Beam bourbon. Roberts opened another bar, Starlight, a few meters away from Bushwick Country Club. The mixologist Starlight, Sasha Pogrebinsky, came up with another version of the Pickleback when the bar ran out of pickle brine. Pogrebinksy figured that since the Pickleback had become so popular, it would do regular customers an injustice to not have an option. Therefore, the mixologist developed brine from the watermelon rind to chase a shot of tequila. Roberts wanted to differentiate it from the Pickleback by calling it “the Melonback.” The Starlight bar owner was in awe of how a drink invented at his bar had gone international. The Pickleback mania had reached Central America and Robert’s friend told him that he found a treehouse bar with “Try the Pickleback” on its menu.
How to Make the Pickleback Cocktail
The Whiskypedia details the process of making the Pickleback. To make the pickles, the first step is to cut cucumbers and onions into thick slices and salt them. Leave the salted cuts for six hours and rinse them. Press them using a heavy weight to squeeze all the liquid out and make them crunchy. The next step is to make the juice, and you will need a liter of cider vinegar, 30g of sea salt, and 700g of demerara sugar. Put the three ingredients in a large pan and place it on heat so the salt and sugar dissolve. Pour the cucumbers and onions into the pan, and bring it to a boil before turning off the heat. At this point, the pickles will be brown. Next, transfer the contents into a jar. Close it and leave it for at least a week. However, the longer the pickle brine is left, the better the taste. Whenever you want to make the Pickleback cocktail, strain the pickle brine into your shot of whisky and have the combo.
Written by Lily Wordsmith
Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith