Pickles and whiskey are strange bedfellows. Yet somehow they’ve become increasingly intertwined thanks to the magic of the pickleback. Purportedly brought to the fore by a group of Brooklyn’s best (or worst) bartenders and imbibed by those that also displayed a strong penchant for the iconic Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can, it’s nothing more complex than a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle brine.
Originally the domain of a forgotten bourbon by the name of Old Crow, Brooklynites made Jameson the champion of the concept, probably owing to their very loose lineage of Irish blood. Now the baton is being handed to Bulleit Rye Whiskey. A long held bartender favourite in the USA, its arrival has been highly anticipated by bartenders across the country.
Last week, a select group of bartenders from around the world were flown to Sydney to attend a private tasting of the Rye at the spiritual home hard liquor drinking in Australia, Shady Pines Saloon. For the international bartenders in the crowd that experienced it before, it was as they expected and hoped. The rye-heavy mash bill of 95 per cent lends itself to being one of the best mixing ryes on the market and certainly one of the best value for money. If you’re a stiff drinker, your Manhattans and Boulevardiers are about to get tastier and hopefully a little cheaper.
For those who prefer to drink their whiskey straight up, Bulleit Rye is a tasty option. But as some might argue, the pickle chaser does little to enhance the flavour profile of the whiskey. A conundrum of sorts. Not the kind of people to do things by halves, the good folk at Bulleit enlisted the help of Michelin starred and hatted chef David Chang to help solve the problem.
While in Sydney for Crave Sydney International Food Festival, he took some time out to share his answer to the pickleback with this select group of tenders. A recipe that he adapted from one of his head chefs at NYC’s KO, the genius is in its simplicity. Citrus, sugar and salt, with a smattering of fresh juice, left to sit for a couple of weeks. The resulting brine is then watered down a little and served along side a shot of Bulleit for one of the most artisanal pickleback options ever created. “I like mine a little more salty, but cooks have a messed up palate,” Chang tells.
The reasoning behind this citrus creation is two fold. After speaking to Chang, it became obvious that he knew how to drink, citing his own Booker and Dax and the prominent PDT in NYC as his favourite drinking holes. “Honestly, I tend to drink whiskey neat, maybe with a twist, or as an old fashioned.”
He was introduced to drinking whiskey with citrus by none other than Fred Noe, the master distiller of the Beam group of bourbon makers, while in Kentucky. This citrus pairing was also spurred on by his hatred of wastage. “I hate seeing food go to waste,” he says. “At our restaurants, we try to use everything. And what’s something that bartenders always have loads of leftover? Citrus.”
And the result? Well he seems pretty pleased with the outcome: “I just want to make something delicious and something I would want to drink.” Good enough for us from a Michelin chef that clearly knows how to drink.
While it may seem contradictory, to make a typically underground and dive bar based concept into an artisanal offering, the outcome is enticing. It seems to capture everything that Chang is about, taking the most simple things to nth degree. And who can really argue with a guy who can get away with playing AC/DC in a three-hatted restaurant. Chang knows a little something about mixing the high and low brow to great effect.
Keep an eye out for artisanal Bulleit Rye picklebacks in Sydney.