In an age where a good libation is more accessible than ever, booze aficionados are gravitating towards barely potable potions these days. From shots to craft cocktails, bartenders are pouring fashionable tipples that cause us to ask, “Why would you drink that?!”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever grabbed the pickle jar from the fridge and taken a big ol’ swig of the brine. How about taking a shot of whiskey before that pull from the jar? Anyone? Alright, a few of you have, and I may or may not be among you, but what is done in the comforts of home at 3am is rarely done in a polite social setting.
Chasing whiskey with pickle juice, or Pickle Backs as they’re known, have become quite the vogue amongst even the most sophisticated tipplers. In fact, a number of otherwise unthinkable libations have come to fashion of late, leaving some of the bar community bewildered at these shocking trends.
Though I’ve long mixed cocktails with amaris, Cynar artichoke liqueur, and other such bitter potables, these spirits and liqueurs have recently taken center stage with in-the-know booze hounds. Fernet-Branca, a popular sipper and shot amongst those in the business, can even be found on tap in a number of markets.
“We’re in San Francisco, the industry drink is Fernet, why not be the first to put Fernet on tap?” says Duncan Ley, owner of the Russian Hill bars Bullitt and Tonic.
One such cocktail, developed by Kirk Estopinal of Cure in New Orleans, is currently featured at Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Oregon. Created with a base of Cynar and Punt e Mes (two of the most bitter digestives on the market), the cocktail, aptly titled “The Search for Delicious”, is a hit with the industry crowd, highlighting ingredients that could give the unwitting a facial expression as bitter as the spirits of which it’s comprised.
Another order that might make your bartender cringe is any number of the party drinks made popular in the 1990’s. While thankfully the Flirtini has gone out of fashion, the Pomegranate Cosmo and Dirty Martini are still going strong. On paper, some olive juice or brine should add some salty and savory notes to a cocktail, but having seen the brine that goes into most dirty birds, a guest is perhaps better off adding a splash of dishwater.
At this year’s Tales of the Cocktail event, I was kindly treated to a newer favorite amongst the daring as well – a straight shot of Angostura bitters. A cocktail flavoring classified as ‘non-potable’, mixer Gary Regan asserted in The Joy of Mixology that such a libation was “not meant to be consumed neat or on the rocks.” It was less than pleasant, and one is better served keeping the dasher on for use in their Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
While drinking trends are constantly evolving, it never ceases to amaze what curious lengths folks will go to for a little flush to their cheeks. Should you find yourself at a bar where these or other dumbfounding drinks are ordered, you can likely share a knowing look with the bartender who’s probably asking the same question you are: “Why would you drink that?!”
~Brandon Wise, Presiding barman of Portland’s Irving Street Kitchen