When it comes to whisky, we like to keep things simple. Neat, on the rocks, or mixed with coke - that's how we know and love it. New York Magazine's food blog Grub Street echoed this recently when it described flavoured whisky as 'The Beginning of The End' and filed it under Desecrations. I mean, why try to fix something which isn't broken?
However, a new enthusiasm for cocktails is starting to change the way we drink it and has opened up whisky to a new younger market. Combine this with a growth in BBQ joints and food from the Deep South and bourbon is suddenly everywhere. Now a new trend is growing in London, appropriated (like so many food trends) from New York. It's called the pickleback and is the simplest of drinks; one shot of whisky followed instantly with a shot of pickle juice. If the thought of this makes you feel slightly queasy, then all I can say is that you have to give it a try. It's something we're quite unaccustomed to seeing and sounds more akin to a rugby team initiation forfeit, but it's a blessing for those who, like me, despise the burning sensation that comes with drinking any spirit neat.
Not a million miles away from the classic combination of tequila, salt and lemon - the short, sharp shock of the vinegar somehow manages to complement the flavour notes of the whisky, whilst also providing a soothing solution to the inevitable throat burn. So in a welcome reverse to the proverbial norm, it provides calm after the storm and leaves you feeling surprisingly refreshed. It's an acquired taste, but if you're looking for a simple whisky shooter then I would recommend this to anyone with a sense of adventure, particularly those with a penchant for sour, vinegary crisps.
One of the first places to pick up on this kind of drink was Pitt Cue Co. in Soho. They've been serving picklebacks since the very beginning of their business, when they operated from a street food trailer. It's their signature drink and is even included in their cookbook (Pitt Cue Co.: The Cookbook, £20, Mitchell Beazley)
Further East you can also get yourself a pickleback in Oslo, a trendy new bar in Hackney. It's also here in Hackney that one savvy drinks entrepreneur, Florence Cherruault, has founded The Pickle House. She's developed the ideal brine for a pickleback and sells it by the bottle online and also to bars. So if you wanted to try this at home, but weren't particularly keen on digging out that ancient bottle of Tesco Value pickles in the back of the cupboard, The Pickle House is for you. Florence also recommends it as a novel way to spice up a Bloody Mary.
But if you haven't already been won over by the aforementioned perks of the pickleback, there are some additional advantages to consider when you drink it in moderation. It's packed full of electrolytes which means that it's already helping to ease any potential hangover caused by the whisky. Obviously it's no miracle cure and I wouldn't recommend drinking enough whisky to warrant a hangover in the first place, but it's got much less sugar and caffeine than other chasers.
In a wider sense, savoury alcoholic drinks are on the rise, as the line between chefs and mixologists becomes increasingly blurred. Balsamic vinegar cocktails are starting to make an appearance on menus and all sorts of foraged ingredients are making their way into glasses of discerning drinkers - think fresh basil, thyme, mushrooms and even bacon. So whether you love it or loathe it, the humble pickleback is part of a new wave of savoury tipples making their way across the Atlantic to a bar near you. And if you think this divides opinion, just wait for the inevitable Marmite Martini!