Drinks

The Pickleback Gets a José Andrés-Approved Update

The classic shot combo gets the Turkish treatment with raki and turnip juice
Turkish Pickleback Cocktail ? Jose Andres
Photo: Zaytinya

It's been more than a decade since the pickleback first became the "Hey, try this!" go-to among Brooklyn drinkers. Over the years, the unique combination—a shot of whiskey with a pickle juice chaser—has expanded to every corner of the country and inspired a few variations on the theme. But rarely do those variations come from award-winning chefs, and even more rare is the likeliness they're served at high-end restaurants.

And yet, that's exactly what's happening at the recently opened Frisco, Texas location of Zaytinya, the D.C. restaurant from famed chef José Andrés. Dubbed the Turkish pickleback (see the recipe), the drink falls under the menu's Mediterranean Aperitifs section, which is your open invitation to enjoy a pre-dinner shot.

Unlike the typical Pickleback presentation—a simple shot of whiskey with a sidekick of electric-green pickle juice—the Turkish variety gets the royal treatment by way of an elaborate set-up involving three glasses and a silver tray.

On the left: chilled raki, a grape-based brandy that's flavored with anise. And on the right: şalgam, a popular Turkish drink made by salting turnips and letting them ferment in their own juices before straining and bottling the pickled juice. These two liquids arrive flanking a glass containing a single ice cube.

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"The combination is a traditional way of serving and drinking [raki and şalgam] in Turkey," Miguel Lancha, ThinkFoodGroup's cocktail innovator, says. "We find that the sweetness and anise notes from raki are so nicely balanced by the acidic, pickled notes of the Şalgam, and as a whole, the set works beautifully as a palate cleanser alongside the meal. 

He's not wrong. The raki's anise flavor will appeal to fans of similar spirits like ouzo and sambuca. And while raki is traditionally tempered with water, here you've got that ice cube, for a colder, slightly diluted sip. But it's the şalgam that really ties the affair together in this choose-your-own-adventure drink. Sipped alongside the raki, it offers a bright foil to the potent liquor. 

Zaytinya's Turkish Pickleback is a long way off from the original version of Jameson and sour juice, but it still offers that familiar one-two punch of strong spirit and acidic chaser. And the fact that it's being riffed on by José Andrés and co. in an upscale Dallas suburb 12 years after its conception shows that the humble Pickleback has staying power.

"Everyone is very curious," Lancha says. "The service set up is fun and attractive to the eye, so people ask about it, we explain it, and if they're adventurous, they'll try it. The feedback is very positive."

Kevin Gray is a Dallas-based food, drinks and travel writer. Follow his adventures on Twitter and Instagram. 

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