Drinks

We're Bringing Pickles Back

The history of the pickleback and the new version you need to try
History of the Pickleback
Photo: Michelle Sun/Tasting Table

If you’re a fan of the pickleback—a shot of whiskey chased by a shot of pickle juice—you might assume it’s been around forever. But the pickleback is a relative newcomer, having originated in Brooklyn just 10 years ago. With merely a decade under its belt, the pickleback is not only going strong, but the bar where it originated is welcoming a new version into the fold. Let’s take a look back and raise a glass to the next iteration.

It was the year 2006, March to be exact, when bartender Reggie Cunningham developed the original pickleback at the Bushwick Country Club. Current owner John Roberts says that Cunningham was hungover and eating pickles behind the bar when a woman from Florida came in. The two shot some Old Crow, followed by McClure’s pickle juice. Yes: that McClure's. Bob McClure started his pickle company in his kitchen, which happened to be two doors down from the bar. It was a perfect storm.

Photo Credit: Bushwick Country Club

Though people have been drinking pickle juice for centuries, it wasn’t until Cunningham coined the term pickleback that the shot officially became what it is today—nothing short of a global sensation. Bars all over the world now offer the thing. They don’t always come with Old Crow or McClure’s pickle juice, but the basic elements are the same. Roberts has heard of the shot turning up as far as London, Scotland and even Japan.

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Roberts even had a former employee who was backpacking in South America, “three hours in the middle of nowhere,” happen upon a bar in a treehouse that served nothing but a few bottles of booze and some beers. But there was also a sign that read Try the Pickleback. The backpacker couldn’t even get milk for her morning coffee, but she could get a pickleback.

The devotion is strong and well-earned. Now, a decade since the first official pickleback cured a morning hangover, there's a new version in town.

It’s a shot of tequila, followed by juice from pickled watermelon rind.

Chef Sasha Pogrebinsky of Roberts' new restaurant, Starlight, invented the drink when the kitchen ran out of pickle brine. Starlight is around the corner from the Bushwick Country Club, and the shot is available at both locations. Roberts is thinking of calling it the “melon back,” but the jury’s still out. Make the pilgrimage to where it all began to try the original version and stay for this new iteration, which is perfect for summer. Or, if Brooklyn isn’t in the cards, try making your own pickled watermelon rind and use the brine at home. It’s a new dawn for the pickleback. You heard it here first. 

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