Yeah, I’ll admit it. The oft-stereotyped hipster has been an easy target in these pages throughout the years, and no doubt we at Good. Food. Stories. will continue to nitpick away at the mob mentality and quasi-ridiculous trendmongering (hey, it’s New York; we call it like we see it). But from chaos often comes beauty, and like a sculptor coaxing delicate limbs and faces from rough stone, sometimes an artist can polish a kernel of a good idea into something truly great.
Take the pickleback, one of those ideas that—like men wearing chest hair-exposing deep v-neck t-shirts and both genders sporting thick black-rimmed glasses when they’ve got perfect eyesight—seems inexplicably wrong at first glance. A pickleback, for those of you not inclined to frequent the bars of Williamsburg or Ludlow Street, is a shot of whiskey chased with a shot of dill pickle juice. It’s that simple.
And you’d think that someone who’s both a whiskey fanatic and a dill pickle addict would start sucking these things down with abandon, right? No dice. Pickleback fans claim that the sour brine mellows whiskey’s fiery aftertaste, but that’s not what I tasted. Rather than being more than the sum of its parts, I got no pleasure from the Frankensteinian marriage of these two unwilling partners.
Here’s the twist (you knew there was one, right?). My favorite West Village surf shack Ditch Plains (home of the mac and cheese-slathered Ditch Dog) makes their own bread and butter pickles for battering and frying, chopping into housemade tartar sauce, topping an already towering burger, and even eating as a side dish, should you be so brine-inclined.
It’s this brine, the sugar- and turmeric-infused neon juice from the bread and butter slices, that Ditch Plains mixes with whiskey to make a cocktail called The Pickled Surfer. (It’s an urban fish shack, get it?) Citrus comes to the rescue once again, with a squeeze of lime juice that cuts both the sweetness and the burn for a truly mellow finish to each sip. Think whiskey sour, but brighter and less cloying. Think margarita, but deeper and more savory.
The Pickled Surfer plays well with fried oysters and clams on a sunny, last-gasp-of-summer day, or with a plate of chicken chili nachos when the first hint of fall is in the air and the first weeks of football hit the airwaves. And it’s sippable instead of shootable, making this an oldster’s drink for those of us who prefer a slower pace. That’s a trend I can get behind.
Ditch Plains uses Bushmills in their version of the drink, but everyone’s got a favorite; I’ve been making mine with a bottom-shelf Canadian blend from the back of the liquor cabinet. Bourbon, with its vanilla undertones, might enhance the Surfer’s sweetness further. Give it a try with your most beloved malt and let me know the results.
The Pickled Surfer
inspired by Ditch Plains
Total time: 5 minutes
Makes 1 drink
- 1 1/2 oz. whiskey
- 1/2 oz. bread and butter pickle juice, plus a few pickle slices for garnish
- juice of 1/2 lime, plus an extra lime wedge for garnish
- Old Bay seasoning for garnish (optional)
Pour the whiskey, pickle juice and lime juice into a rocks glass filled with ice. Stir gently. Garnish with a lime wedge and a few slices of pickle that have been sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning, if desired.