The true origin of the Pickleback

November 12, 2015 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The pickleback drink was created at Bushwick Country Club in East Williamsburg. Photos courtesy of Bushwick Country Club
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No cocktail raises more eyebrows and yields more skepticism than the pickleback.


Like most things hip, innovative and out of the ordinary, the pickleback, which is a shot of whiskey chased immediately by a shot of chilled, spicy pickle brine, was founded and termed in none other than Brooklyn.

The term was crafted at the Bushwick Country Club, which, believe it or not, is not an actual country club, but rather a popular dive bar in East Williamsburg that offers its patrons board games, an antiquated photo booth, six holes of mini-golf and, of course, the famous pickleback.

Reggie Cunningham, a former employee of the Bushwick Country Club, created the peculiar phrase back in March of 2006.

John Roberts, owner of the bar, revealed the unusual story to the Brooklyn Eagle.

“Reggie was eating pickles on a Sunday afternoon in March 2006,” said Roberts. “Essentially, some Southern woman asked to drink the pickle brine, and [Reggie] said, ‘No, that’s gross,’ and she said, ‘Nah, I want to drink that pickle brine.’ So he said, ‘All right, we’ll do a shot first, and then we’ll do one together.’”

“That happened on Sunday, and that Tuesday was Reggie’s next shift, and there was a gaggle of regulars at the end of the bar, and they [had] quite a few of these things. Somebody said, ‘Oh, you should call it whatever.’ And Reggie was adamant, and was like, ‘No! It’s a pickleback.’ And the pickleback was born.”

The original pickleback was created with McClure’s Pickles’ spicy pickle brine, whose co-owner Bob McClure is a Brooklynite.

“Bob McClure started his business, McClure’s Pickles, in his kitchen back in 2006,” said Roberts, “and he asked to place a pallet of his jars of pickles in my basement to store it until he could move it, so I said yes. And because of that, we had McClure’s Pickles, which was created on Grand Street in Bob McClure’s apartment — and so it was the perfect storm.”

The original pickleback was created with Old Crow Whiskey, but the drink can be paired with the imbiber’s whiskey of choice.

Jameson is a popular alternative to Old Crow, according to Roberts.

While drinking pickle brine helps replenish the electrolytes lost from drinking alcohol and helps to restore depleted sodium levels, be wary of drinking too many picklebacks if you want to avoid a hangover.

In addition to the drink spreading nationwide, the term pickleback has also gone international.

Roberts says he has friends who have seen the drink in Scotland and Japan.

“The craziest story,” said Roberts, “was one of my ex-employees was backpacking in Central America, and he took a pickup truck three hours to go to the middle of nowhere, and there was a tree house that was a bar. Literally, the bar was a tree house, and they had four different bottles of booze — two options of beer and a sign saying ‘Try the Pickleback.’

“So literally in one of the most remote places on earth, they have a sign that says, ‘Try the Pickleback.’ It was a joke that took on a life of its own.”

Many might be hesitant to try the drink; Roberts, too, once doubted the taste of the pickleback.

It wasn’t until his employees begged him to try one that he was turned on to this famous drink.

“I was like, ‘all right, I’ll try one if it will just shut you howling lemurs up, you guys are complete idiots…I tried it, and I was like, ‘Oh my god! That was awesome!’

“I know it sounds weird, but give it a try, and unless you hate pickles, I don’t see you hating this.”

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