New York’s Big Pickle

This article was published in Bartender Magazine’s October issue.
y Naren Young

Shots. We all love them. We’re bartenders, it’s what we do, right? Whether it’s the ubiquitous Lemon Drop, cavity-inducing Cowboy, the classic and neglected Pousse Café, a humble shot of Jack or a swig of Fernet Branca (a favourite amongst San Francisco’s off duty bar keeps), bartenders are the gatekeepers to a world of inebriation that is often fuelled by the modest shot glass. Let’s be honest though, most of them have ridiculous monikers that perhaps hide the fact that most of them are a sugary mix of lightly fortified fruit juice and neon coloured liqueurs. I haven’t the faintest clue what’s in most of them and lucky for me that I work in a bar where they’re requested almost never. Almost never.

Just the other night a lady asked me to make her a Red Headed Slut. I whispered over the shoulder of a colleague “What the f#%* is a Red Headed Slut?” In case you’re wondering (which I highly doubt you are) it’s a delicious mix of peach schnapps, Jägermeister and cranberry juice. Maybe I’ve been in this game too long but all I could do was look at her with utter confusion. She looked at me like ‘oh this must be your first day’. It was a surreal moment, probably for both of us. Her fall back choice, however, was a “SoCo Lime” (Southern Comfort and Rose’s lime cordial. Equally delicious), which perhaps said more about her drinking intentions than my ability as a bartender.


If you work in a bar where shots are popular, why not at least make them interesting?

But shots don’t necessarily have to be that easy vehicle to getting sloshed that they usually are thought to be. And they can be more interesting than the Irish Car Bomb, Blow Job, Brain Hemorrhage, Midori Illusion, Strawberry Shortcake nonsense that we see in most suburban bars. If you work in a bar where shots are popular, why not at least make them interesting? Perhaps they’re just the same as some of the drinks on your regular menu but in bite size form.

One of the best applications of shots I’ve experienced is to use them as a way to get a drink into people’s hands when it’s really busy. No one likes to wait, especially in a bar when a few minutes seem, and are, like dog minutes. In a busy bar, guests can often wait up to 20 minutes to be served. If you can ease their frustrations before they begin by getting a drink in their hands, then it will make for a much more pleasant experience for everyone, you included. It’s a nice touch and what you give them should be sharp, dry and most importantly low in cost. Have a pre-made batch at the ready for these exact scenarios.

My go to shot is usually Jameson. And the one shot that is big right now here in New York is called the Pickle Back, which is essentially a shot of Jameson promptly followed by one of pickle juice. It sounds nasty to most people, whether you’re a fan of pickles or not. In America they’re much more part of the culture than Down Under. Many bars take their pickle juice very seriously and either make their own or buy it wholesale directly from artisan picklers.

Sure, it’s still pickle juice but it’s not that nasty, chemical and preservative-laden crap you get in most bottled supermarket brands. And many of these keen bartenders are now infusing their own pickle juice with jalapeno, lemon zest, thyme, bay leaves, fennel, pink peppercorns or whatever else their imagination will allow. The whole thing sounds rather ridiculous but the juice is surprisingly moorish and works equally as well with a great blanco tequila, especially a peppery Highland expression.

The first bar (that I know of) that began this whole fascination was the Rusty Knot, a small nautical themed bar in Manhattan’s West Village. TJ Lynch was the man in question and was soon being called by some the ‘prophet of the pickle back’ and his version was a veritable herb garden. Now I hear it’s spread to Australia and found a home at the Flinders Hotel. In fact by the time this article comes out, no doubt good friend and bartender Andy Penney would have pushed a few across the bar in my direction.

If there’s one guy in Australia that is most appropriate to be the ambassador of the shot and all it stands for, it is this guy. The pickle back shouldn’t seem that strange really, especially in America where the Dirty Martini – the devil’s urine in my opinion – is a mainstay in every single bar, no matter how precious. I’m sure the pickle back is set to spread like a weird and perplexing global virus.

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