Whiskey and pickle juice? At first, the combination sounds bizarre and maybe, literally, a little difficult to swallow. To a whiskey aficionado, possibly downright blasphemous. But try the Pickleback, and you may change your mind. One shot of whiskey with a spicy pickle juice chaser turns into an almost magical series of flavors–sweet, then a sour blast, followed by a spicy finish.
The Pickleback made its way to Champaign-Urbana the way many ideas do-with a person who comes here from a larger city for family, for school, or with a significant other. This drink happened into town with mixologist Rusty Van Praag, who moved to central Illinois to be a little closer to family. Formerly of the Breslin Bar & Dining Room in New York City, Rusty has settled into a role of mixologist at Bacaro in downtown Champaign. He brought the Pickleback with him and bequeathed it as an off-menu drink to the Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in Urbana.
Like many drinks, the history behind the Pickleback is a little uncertain, but according to lore, it probably originated from a request by a southern woman at the bar of the the Bushwick Country Club in New York City. Whiskey Town, also in New York City, might be responsible for some of the evolution of the drink. They tried the Pickleback with vodka, gin, tequila, and whiskey, but of all the combinations Jameson Irish Whiskey seemed to turn out the best.
Jameson, a blended Irish whiskey, boasts a sweet flavor that holds through from the very first note to the finish. This even vanilla-and-spice sweetness makes it the perfect candidate to contrast the dill pickle juice. To get the most dramatic effect, drink the shot as it was meant to be had, with the full shot of Jameson quickly followed by the full chaser of pickle juice.
Remember, this drink is not on the menu at Black Dog, but you can order it there anytime or make your own version of it at home. The proportions of the drink are equal: a shot of Jameson and a shot of pickle juice. It sounds deceptively easy, but the homemade pickling liquid and hot pepper juice make the drink.
To recreate this drink yourself, get ready to do some pickling at home or use the juice of some local or gourmet dill pickles and mix with a little hot pepper juice before you serve. You might replicate the sweet-then-sour-and-spicy progression of the two shots in succession, or create your own version of the Pickleback at home. And the price of experimenting with this drink at home is reasonable. A 750 ml bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey runs approximately $25 and contains about 17 shots.
Black Dog Smoke & Ale House’s Pickleback costs $5, and Black Dog is located at 201 North Broadway Avenue in Urbana.
Thirsty Around Town explores alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages found in different venues around the Champaign-Urbana area. If you have a favorite obscure drink, email me. I want to try it!