For the love of all that is holy and Jameson
Lets start with an undeniable fact: Jameson is amazing on its own. It can be poured neat, on the rocks, with a little ginger ale or my personal favorite right into an easily accessible shot glass. It’s 80 proof Irish Whiskey. It’s meant to have a burn going down and meant to put some hair on your chest.
Lets now turn to a growing problem: more and more bars are offering a new drink special called the “Pickleback” shot. If you have not heard of this shot, chances are you have never been to Williamsburg and/or are a raging alcoholic. For the uninitiated a Pickleback shot is one shot of Jameson and one shot of pickle juice. Unlike an “Irish Car Bomb” which has one universal method of drinking (drop shot of ½ Jameson & ½ Baileys Irish Cream into a glass of Guinness and DRINK), a Pickleback can be taken one of two ways: drink the Jameson first, then take a shot of the pickle juice, OR you can throw the whiskey in your mouth first and then throw in the pickle juice and swallow simultaneously. Both descriptions want me to throw up in my own mouth.
It’s not that I don’t like pickles or pickle juice. Quite the contrary, I demand pickles with every sandwich and burger. I like pickles in all shapes and sizes and varieties. And yet I am firmly against pickle juice in my whiskey. Just because you like product A and product B does not mean you will enjoy A&B together. I love BBQ sauce. I put it on just about everything I eat (including pickles!). But something’s are just a BBQ sauce free zone. The list includes, but is not limited to peanut butter & jelly, pasta, and Chinese food. My comparison might seem ridiculous and perhaps it is, but pickle juice has no business around whiskey, so whose actually being ridiculous?!
/takes Jameson shot
Pickled items are not new to the bar scene. Olives and olive juice have been used to cut through vodka forever. Dirty martins after all are the official cocktail of the long workday. So it would stand to reason that pickle juice could be easily be incorporated in the Irish Whiskey culture. But I’m here to tell you that the insanity has to stop. If you want to order a Mason jar worth of dill pickle juice that’s between you and your maker, but leave John Jameson’s masterpiece out of it. It feel’s like pickle salesmen have been working overtime pushing their product into new market areas. It reminds me of comedian Brian Regan’s joke about pushy cranberry salesmen.
Pickleback shots have only been growing in popularity in the last few years. What was initially known as a bar industry secret has slowly began creeping into the mainstream consciousness. Last January, Rachel Maddow got on the Jimmy Fallow show, and with her best pair of hipster glasses she taught him the proper way to take a Pickleback shot. It wasn’t exactly a segment on the Today Show, but late night viewers outside of Brooklyn got a chance to see the mystery of mixing Irish Whiskey and pickle brine. Still, drinkers should not expect to find Picklebacks in every drinking establishment they frequent. The T.G.I. Friday’s in Elmira, NY might look at you a little strange when you ask them to add a pickle juice chaser to your Jameson shot.
Why would people choose to add a chaser as obscure as pickle juice to their Jameson shots? There are two spoken reasons for and one unspoken (but correct) reason. The spoken reasons for using pickle juice are (1) it acts as a coolant for the fire taste left behind when taking a shot of whiskey and (2) it helps prevents hangovers because it helps with dehydration. The dehydration argument is probably correct. Maybe. Pickle juice has been used in sports to treat cramps and dehydration so it stands to reason it is able to prevent dehydration based hangovers as well.
The argument that it cools the burning sensation caused by drinking whiskey is most alarming to me. Whiskey is SUPPOSED to taste and act like whiskey. It is supposed to burn going down, it is supposed to make your insides warm, and it’s supposed to leave your mouth with that harsh whiskey taste. It is true that pickle juice wipes out the burn going down and leaves your mouth with a briny taste instead. When I’m still at the bar I don’t want my mouth to smell like the inside of Katz Deli.
Whiskey was created to burn. You’re supposed to know you just drank firewater when you drink it. Extinguishing that fire is just another step in the flavored spirits era, which is meant to make alcohol taste like something other than alcohol. Take the case of vodka: First it was just fire burning clear vodka. Then they created orange and citron flavors. Now, there are hundreds of flavors of vodka including chocolate cake and cotton candy. Make it taste like anything other than what it was designed to taste like. Pretty soon we are just going to place spirits in baby bottles with nipples attached.
A few weeks ago someone offered to buy me a shot and I was delighted to see the bartender reach for the unmistakable green bottle of Jameson and then mortified to see him reach into the cooler for an unmarked squeeze bottle of green liquid. I stared at the two shots and wondered why I couldn’t just enjoy my whiskey without all the fuss (and seeds?) of the pickle juice. But the person buying demanded I take them both, and all of the joy of my Jameson was taken away just as quickly with the pickle juice. The person buying me the shot was even more disgusted when I demanded a stick of gum right after slamming the shot as if the taste of pickle juice was a germ I could wash away with Purell.
But the unspoken and ultimately correct reason Pickleback shots are increasing in popularity is because them seem like a cool thing to order. It’s almost like a wink and nod to the bartender that you are in on the secret of drinking whiskey and pickle juice. It is certainly a “look at me” shot, which falls in the same category of jager bombs and car bombs.
It’s not cool. Don Draper is cool. Don Draper would sneer at you if you brought a glass of pickle juice next to his glass of Canadian Club. His drink is fine the way it was bottled. And Don doesn’t need some nose-ringed bartender to tell him about how he makes his own organic pickles in the basement specifically to enhance the flavor of the whiskey. Draper wouldn’t approve of the Pickleback and neither do I.