It’s an anticipated and welcome time of the night as a bartender, no matter the side of the bar you find yourself on. You gather the troops, raise a glass and toast to another night in the trenches. Then it’s head down, back to work. It’s an all too familiar scenario (unless you tee-total or work in a bar where this is a no no. Sorry ‘bout that). More often than not it’s tequila, perhaps Jameson or JD, or even Jager or Fernet Branca (a favourite amongst San Francisco’s off duty bar keeps). On my last trip to your fine shores, some were shooting Cachaca (no thanks) and high octane Rhum Agricole (double no thanks).
But that’s what we bartenders drink. What about our guests? At some stage of your illustrious careers, no doubt you’ve been asked to make a round of shots. Whether it’s the ubiquitous Lemon Drop, cavity-inducing Cowboy (butterscotch schnapps and Baileys), the classic and neglected Pousse Café, or a humble shot of rye, 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 they are usually just 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.
But shots don’t necessarily have to be that easy vehicle to getting sloshed they usually are thought to be. And they can be more interesting than the Irish Car Bomb, Blow Job, Brain Hemorrhage, Midori Illusion or 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 cocktails on your regular menu but in bite size form.
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 pickles are much more a part of the culture than in say, the UK. 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.
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 bar, no matter how precious the cocktail program. I’m sure the pickle back is set to spread like a weird and perplexing global virus to you soon (if it hasn’t already).