Late night pickle backs with Jimmy Fallon


If you couldn’t stay awake late enough to see Rachel last night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, fear not! His crack web staff already have the clips up.

Random pickle back story: I tended bar for several years in the late 1990s. Nothing fancy; in fact, quite the opposite of fancy. Fancy mixology wasn’t really trendy then, and my bar wasn’t really trendy in that way anyway. If anything was trendy, it was sweet drinks made of flavored liqueurs with obscene or suggestive names (think Sex on the Beach). So the extent of my cocktail creativity was based around making drinks that tasted like other things. “It tastes just like candy!” “It tastes just like a melon ball!” “It takes just like a Girl Scout cookie!” 

This is getting long. Meet me after the jump…

I have a cousin who is a fancy, famous chef and one day we met him at a fancy place for dinner. The bartender there was celebrated for making an amazing, must-try watermelon martini, so I ordered one. The flavor was very convincing, as was the color. What mad chemistry could produce such an authentic taste? Midori and some kind of schnapps? Was it some trick using Malibu rum that fools the tongue? No, none of that, I soon learned. It was made with actual watermelon juice.

Of course these days the idea of fresh ingredients, juices and garnishes is almost commonplace, but my realm of experience was more along the lines of yesterday’s slimy lemon wedges freshened with a splash of club soda from the gun, so the idea of achieving watermelon with actual watermelon was a revelation.

On my next shift I invented the pickle martini. I served free samples to amazed customers who tried to guess what I could have used to mix such an authentic pickle flavor and even color. “It tastes just like pickle!” Really, it was an Absolut Limon martini and I would sneak down to the service bar and ask a server to run into the kitchen and dunk a ramekin in the pickle bucket for a couple of ounces of juice.

That was all pretty ridiculous (and gross, I guess), but here it is more than ten years later and I’m watching Rachel mix whiskey and pickle juice with Jimmy Fallon.

Other bit of pickle back nerdery: I’m seeing this drink spelled as one word, pickleback, including on these Fallon clips. This could be because it’s fun to say that way, or because Nickelback lurks in our collective subconscious, but I’m pretty sure it’s two words because a “back” is a thing in bar parlance

I don’t think it’s used very often anymore, but ordering a back is like ordering a chaser. You can have your highball ingredients mixed together or you can order just the alcohol and a non-alcoholic chaser back. I’ve mostly heard it used with water or soda and whiskey. So you order whiskey with a soda back and you get a shot of whiskey, or just whiskey neat in a glass to nurse, and a separate glass of club soda with it.

I remember the first time someone ordered one from me, I had no idea what they were talking about. Whiskey with a Coke back? It seemed like a scam to get a free Coke.

Anyway, I think it’s pickle back, because really it’s whiskey with pickle back.

(Whether I got the plural right in the headline I’ll leave to you.)

Rachel Maddow Show Drinks

Late night pickle backs with Jimmy Fallon