The pickleback. A shot of whiskey, typically Jamesons, followed by a shot of pickle juice.
It’s particularly popular with booze trade types in the United States and increasingly so in other countries, including China. (Note: Shanghai Pickleback Co will tour Sanlitun with Jing A this weekend: details here.)
My initial reaction to brine is “sour” and “salty“, thus pickleback makes me think of two things:
1. A tequila shot that is preceded by licking salt and followed by sucking a lime or lemon slice.
2. A seminar I attended in 2008 where visiting wine guru Tim Hanni took lemon and salt and showed us how to individualize wine / food pairing by adjusting acidity (see Hate Sauvignon Blanc? Blame Your Childhood.)
The pickleback also made me wonder about Chivas and green tea, a mix popular in China but much-maligned by many drinkers. The usual claim: perfectly good Scotch is spoiled with an ingredient like green tea. I wonder what those claimants think of folk who take a tipple like Jameson and finish it off with a pickleback punch? Something for deep thinkers to mull while enjoying a Whiskey Coke.
Anyway, I popped into Bottle, Boot & Cigar (BBC) earlier this week for some pickleback experimentation. BBC co-owner Doug Williams isn’t cool enough to stock pickled cucumbers — major loss of street cred — so we got a jar from Beaufor at April Gourmet. With Linch manning the bar, we went pickleback to pickleback to pickleback etc.
Jameson chased with Beaufor pickle juice
The whiskey was far too light for the sourness of the pickle juice, the equivalent of a cuddly kitten being trampled beneath a herd of stampeding buffalo.
Jameson mixed with pickle juice, half-half
This one had a slight pickled egg smell to me. While the texture was acceptable, the juice overwhelmed the whiskey even more so. Like a cuddly kitten trampled beneath TWO herds of stampeding buffalo.
Jameson, with salt and lime
We borrowed this tequila technique known to millions of students, party-goers and general hangover-seekers. The salt mellowed the whiskey, the lime cleaned the remaining flavors. It might not be as cool as pickle juice but this combo performed well.
Jameson chased with Thomas Henry Spicy Ginger Beer
Williams threw this one into the mix. The ginger beer was somewhat light in contrast to the Jameson but had a nice spicy bite at the end. This is what the parent of a picklebacker might drink when they’re too old for the real deal.
Jameson’s chased with candied ginger
Another Williams’ suggestion and the most intriguing of the night. After the Jameson, you get a transformation from sweet to heat as that ginger kicks in. As someone said, and it might have been me, “That shit has some finish!”
Jameson chased with pickle juice / simple syrup
We got back to the task at hand. This time we used a chaser of three parts pickle juice and one part simple syrup. That did the trick, as the sweetness formed a flavor bridge between the vanilla notes in the Jameson and the sour / salty elements of the pickle juice. The closest so far to pickletopia, with it being just a bit too sweet.
Red Star baijiu chased with pickle juice
If the pickleback initially served as a chaser after harsh whiskey, what happens when it is used for a spirit many people find a bit rough? The pickle juice easily handled the baijiu, though the match was closer than with the Jameson. Like a cuddly kitten being tackled by a buffalo only slightly bigger than a cuddly kitten.
Red Star baijiu chased with pickle juice / simply syrup
This one worked even better, as the syrup again provided a booze-juice flavor bridge and gobbled up the stronger aromas and flavors of the baijiu. (It reminded me of the time I took very fruity Napa Merlots to hotpot and was surprised at how much those dense wines absorbed the heat.)
Red Star baijiu mixed with pickle juice / simply syrup, half-half
Like the Jameson-pickle juice combo, this one just didn’t work.
And with that we finished. Of course, the main point of this experimentation was to justify drinking pickle juice on a school night. Mission accomplished.
Thanks to the fellow imbibers who joined at least part of the experiment, including Miss Lily, ET, Hannah Santana and, last but not least, Ken Tucky (it took a great deal of persuasion to get him to try the baijiu-pickle combo even though he hails from moonshine country). And thanks to the guys at BBC for being such good sports.