We went to Wingfest, and while we tried some great chicken wings, there was one thing that stayed with us: our first Pickleback. We discovered how great pickle juice can be as a chaser to Horse With No Name, a chilli-infused bourbon, and here’s where you can find your own.
Working in an industry surrounded by alcohol doesn’t actually lend itself to shotting. There are the obvious health reasons. But also the inevitable losing face if you start knocking back something with a hefty age statement. There are some things you just don’t do. It even says it on our website, ‘sip, don’t gulp’.
I made peace with the fact that I left my shot days behind me with £1 Mondays at the Student Union bar. So I was surprised to discover a new favourite drink recently, and that drink happened to be a shot.
This all happened on a trip to Wingfest, a two day celebration of chicken wings in London’s Olympic Park. There were chicken wings. Lots of them. Every kind imaginable. There were also queues for said chicken wings, and on a Saturday where temperatures were pushing 30°C, this meant I found myself seeking shade and something to drink at the Horse With No Name bar.
There was an American saloon vibe, and the habanero-infused bourbon brand was serving up a host of thirst-quenching slushies and cocktails. Inconspicuously listed at the bottom of the menu was a Pickleback. I fall into the camp where burgers just aren’t right without pickles, so was very intrigued.
What’s a Pickleback?
Much more mainstream in the USA than in England, a Pickleback is essentially a shot of whisk(e)y, followed by a shot of pickle juice. Absolutely horrific, some might say. But the ultimate drinking experience for others. Unlike most cocktails (though, really, the Pickleback isn’t a cocktail as such), it’s also pretty easy to trace back when exactly it first came into existence.
It was less than two decades ago, in a Brooklyn dive bar called the Bushwick Country Club. It was 12 March, the year was 2006, and bartender Reggie Cunningham was feeling a little worse for wear during his shift. Okay, he was hungover (sip, don’t gulp, remember?). He was eating pickles behind the bar – specifically, McClure’s Pickles, created by Bob McClure just three doors down from the bar. McClure needed some space to store his pallet of pickles, and the bar agreed to house it for him.
One of the bar’s regulars came in, asked to drink the pickle juice, and challenged Cunningham to join her – but he wouldn’t do it without having a shot of whiskey first. They enjoyed some Old Crow, followed by the pickle juice left over from Cunningham’s snack. People had been drinking pickle juice long before then, but it was that fateful day that Picklebacks officially became a thing. Picklebacks even became the house special, and they were named by Cunningham himself, no less.
If you like a Dirty Martini, you might be more easily swayed by the boozy, briney beverage. The folks at Horse With No Name weren’t using any old pickle juice either, but fancy pickle juice, specifically made for cocktails from The Pickle House.
Give them a shot
Horse With No Name is from The Horse’s Spirit Co., and combines bourbon and habanero pepper. The bourbon comes from Texas’s Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., while The Horse’s Spirit Co. makes its own habanero distillate using red savina peppers in Germany. The distillation process makes sure the aromatic fruity, pepper notes of the habanero come through, but without a load of heat that’ll blow your head off. Combine the two together, and voila, you have Horse With No Name!
The fruity, vegetal flavour of Horse With No Name with salty, tangy pickle juice just did something wonderful. It felt less like doing shots, and more like a fleeting cocktail experience, shall we say. I’ve been preaching the joys of Picklebacks to people ever since.
If you fancy seeing if Picklebacks are your new favourite, it’s not too late! You can catch Horse With No Name serving them up at Wingfest in Birmingham (13-14 August), Manchester (24-25 September), and Bristol (10-11 September), as well as the Hot Sauce Society in Birmingham (9 July), and Meatopia in London (3-4 September). Or, y’know, you could just grab yourself a bottle right here and stock up on a jar of pickles.