Gherkins and Whiskey

Apr 19, 2011 3:06 pm

Getting pickled in Scotland

It’s my understanding that the “Pickleback” — a jigger of Old Crow chased with a shot of straight pickle juice – was invented at the Bushwick Country Club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And were I not, at this writing, on an uncomfortably heated train bound for the Scottish Highlands while what feels like a pack of yapping hyenas practices skateboard tricks between my ears, perhaps I’d be a bit more motivated to make inquiries in the interest of verifying that information.

I do recall reading something in The New York Times last year about a controversy involving the makers of Jameson Irish Whiskey taking credit for the Pickleback craze. But T.J. Lynch of the Breslin in the Ace Hotel in New York — the very bartender Jameson claimed had invented the drink — called bullshit on that claim. There are some folks in Texas as well who assert that truckers have been downing pickle juice with whiskey for decades, but again, I cannot personally verify that information. (And it ain’t unlike a Texan to tell tall tales, after all, now is it?) Then there are the Russians, who’ve been chasing vodka with pickles since the days when Ivan the Terrible was calling the shots.

Point being, I don’t rightly know who really invented the Pickleback.

However, I can confirm — having been there when it happened — that a variation of the aforementioned concoction was first hoisted upon an unsuspecting member of the International Drinking Press one recent rainy evening at a fashionable saloon called Bon Vivant in central Edinburgh. The brainchild of one Max Warner of Chivas Brothers in the UK, “The Bareback” calls for a shot of one of the most oft-quaffed whiskies in Scotland, Chivas Regal, chased with gherkin juice… gherkins, of course, being those little special needs cucumbers that are as ubiquitous in Scottish pubs as toothless, besotted brawlers (and the men who are married to them).

So how does the Bareback measure up to its forebear, the Pickleback? Well, the delicious whiskies are a toss-up, but the pickle/gherkin juice is quite literally tough to swallow. Think sucking face with Amy Winehouse versus Lady Gaga – neither will leave a pleasant taste in your mouth, but should the opportunity present itself, testosterone and the spirit of adventure dictate you do it anyway.

Pickleback proponents cite the whiskey’s sweet yin as the perfect complement to the juice’s bitter yang. Non-fans, myself among them, wonder why anyone would willingly slurp sour shite out of a Vlasic jar when there are so many other more palatable options behind the bar. Maraschino cherry juice, anyone?

If you do decide to give the Pickleback or any of its mutations a whirl, be forewarned — it delivers a wallop… and seven of them may produce skateboarding hyenas.


Pickles and whiskey. Two great tastes that taste great together? Or unbelievably gross? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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