"Backs" Are Back

"Backs"—in other words, a shot served to brace up another potable, such as a beer with a whiskey chaser, a spicy sangrita to follow tequila, or a Bloody Mary served with a beer back (aka a BMW)—are appearing on cocktail menus again.

The trend could be traced to the recent popularity of the Pickleback, that odd combination of a shot of bourbon or Jameson's whiskey chased by a shot of pickle juice. It's not as off-putting as it sounds; the briny pickle juice offers a cool contrast to the heat and sweetness of the straight spirit. And now, whether your poison is whiskey, tequila, or even Dutch genever (the precursor to gin), there's a "back" out there for you.

Among the backs recently spotted around the U.S.:

  • At Vandaag in New York's East Village, look for the "Kopstootje," aka "The Little Head Butt," a traditional Dutch pairing of beer and a chilled genever shot (the latter served in a tulip-shaped shot glass).
  • At Cook & Brown Public House in Providence, Rhode Island, smoky Del Maguey chichicapa mezcal is sipped along with a back of sangrita, a classic pairing (although sangrita purists usually sip tequila).
  • At Altitude in Mt. Hood, Oregon, the "Italian Margarita" is served with an extra shot of Amaretto on the side
  • In Chicago, Dunlays on Clark serves its vodka-based Bloody Mary accompanied by a shot of Guinness. No wonder the quaff is considered one of the best in the city.
  • And if two tipples aren't enough for you, how about three? At Brooklyn's Fatty Cue, the menu includes a selection of bargain-priced ($6) backs, including the "Panchito Special" (1 Tecate, 1 shot tequila, and 1 shot Malay sangrita) and the "Stimulus Package," which pairs two shots of Four Roses bourbon with an Asahi beer back.

It's easy enough to make your own "back"-style drink at home or to order off the menu at the bar: pour (or order) a glass of your favorite beer, plus a shot of your favorite liquor—or flip the equation, if you dare. Of course, you want the two tipples to be complementary, but half the fun is experimenting to find the best match. It's okay, we've got your back.