Pickle Power

Pickle what? That was my reaction when I first heard about the Pickle Back. Yep, you read that right: Pickle Back. The drink, a shot of bourbon or Jameson Irish Whiskey followed by a shot of pickle brine, has developed a cult following complete with a Facebook fan page and press release from Jameson. It’s particularly popular among New York City bartenders who have spread pickle fever to other cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco and even London.

It’s not all that crazy when you put it into context. The Russian and Nordic cultures have paired pickles and pickle brine with vodka for generations. I’ve been blending the brines of several pickled veggies for my Bloody Elixir for years. And, of course, many Martini drinkers add a splash of olive brine to their cocktails.

After much research—and many shots—I’ve traced the origins of the Pickle Back to Brooklyn’s Bushwick Country Club. In 2006, neighbor McClure’s Pickles asked to store some inventory in the bar’s basement. The Country Club’s bartenders were also using the brand’s brine in some cocktails. One Sunday night, according to owner John Roberts, a customer asked for a shot of pickle juice to accompany her vodka. The order inspired bartender Reggie Cunningham to jokingly pair Old Crow Bourbon with a shot of McClure’s spicy pickle juice instead of the traditional can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. But the reaction from patrons was no joke, and the bar started selling a lot of them.

When the Ruotolo brothers brought the drink to their East Village bar, Whiskey Town, the recipe changed slightly as Jameson replaced bourbon. The briny creation was soon being served at other bars, including the Rusty Knot and the Randolph. It can now be found around the city and beyond.

While bartenders use all sorts of pickle juices, Roberts remains a traditionalist. “If it’s not McClure’s it’s not the same,” he says.

H. Joseph Ehrmann is the proprietor of Elixir in San Francisco and the Brand Ambassador and Mixologist for Square One Organic Spirits. He is also one of Liquor.com’s advisors.

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  1. Ken Carlisle says

    A couple weeks ago I was in a creative mood. I was looking for something different to mix with vodka. When I drink it straight I tend to over indulge. Anyway I decided to mix the vodka with some coffee left over from breakfast. It just didn’t have any pizazz. I had these Ba.Tamtpe bread and butter pickle chips that I love…so I added about 3/4 oz. of the pickle brine and viola…my pickled ice coffee was invented. It’s different, but fun once in a while and I won’t over indulge..sweeter than my typical cocktail.

  2. The Suferin Bastard in Colorado Springs has a drink called the Sandhill Hooker. It’s a shot of tequila chased by a shot of spicy pickle juice. I’m not a tequila drinker or a fan of spicy stuff but it was better than I expected.

  3. We called them Sam Hill Hookers back in Des Moines in the 80′s but we used Jack Daniels…perhaps I will revisit that drink in the near future!

  4. Jeffrey Hagedon says

    A vodka pickle martini is great. Good vodka, dash of sweet gherkin brine, and a sliced gherkin for garnish. Shaken, not stirred.

  5. Just as an FYI, the “pickle back” has been around for at least 20 years. Friends of ours who went to Drake University in Des Moines in the mid-to-late-80s were drinking a drink of the same name but similar ingredients to Lee’s “Sandhill Hooker” above. I’ve also heard it pronounced (perhaps after having had a few drinks) as a “Sam Hill Hooker”. In the Des Moines incarnation, the drink is a shot of Jack Daniels backed by a shot of pickle juice. It is, without a doubt, one of the most gut-wrenching drinks I’ve ever had. Needless to say, I’ve only had one.

  6. This “cocktail” has been around for much longer than 4 years. I first tried it at the urging of a barman at Beau Rivage Casino in Southern Mississippi in 2001. He lined up 2 shot glasses, one with Crown Royal and one with pickle juice, and told us to shoot them back to back as quickly as possible. He called it the “Cheeseburger”. I was amazed when that was exactly what I tasted.

  7. Christo Babb says

    In my 20+ years of cocktail experience I have encountered many ways to enjoy brine and spirits. My favorite is either vodka or rye, one to one with sauerkraut juice. That tradition I inherited from my Polish grandfather. The notion of brine and alcohol also brings to mind the many creative uses of hot sauce I’ve seen. Cheers!

  8. gardner Dunn says

    Well put H. Hope to have one with you soon. See you in Vegas. Cheers

  9. I have heard of this drink before (and have been shooting them for years)….but I’ve always known it as a “Pickle Pony” – however, instead of Jameson, it used Crown Royal. I heard about it from a friend, who heard about it from someone else.

  10. Hey H! It’s me, frank (used to work at Counter). Thanks for setting the record straight! I have frequented and worked at Bushwick Country Club for years. It’s true, it’s McClures or it’s just not right.

  11. cna training says

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  12. In Southern Colorado, along the Arkansas trail, we call it a
    San Juan Hooker (Patron followed by Pickle juice)and for the fellas, add a dash or 4 of Tabasco and it’s called a Dirty San Juan Hooker!!!
    The lime and salt is dead and gone, POWER TO THE PICKLE!!

  13. I’ve been drinking vodka & pickle back with halibut and chips sense 1962 up here in Alaska, it came from Russia and we thought we were behind time.

  14. I’ve been doing these for years….except we call them a Tijuana hooker. Whatever the name…it’s good!!

  15. Mike Fugere says

    …I invented JD and pickle juice on Dec.31st 1999 at 11:45pm only 15 min left before New Years we had a half a bottle of JD and no mix I looked in the fridge saw a jar of Vlasic Dill Pickles voila *Jack Vlasic* was born :)

  16. I’m looking for vodka and gherkin juice recipes, but a bit lighter than just these two – what mixer would work best?


  17. My cousin told me about pickle “backs” with whiskey – he even started a company around it : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pickleback/250503265104517
    I was hesitant to try it but my kids came home on leave and my cousin sent us a bottle. Pretty darn straight! And the “pickleback” product is so good! – more so than straight from the jar pickle juice! and you cna use it in many recipes too .

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