Pickles Versus Cucumbers: When It Comes To Cocktails, Whose Side Are You On?

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Confession: I love cucumber drinks.

Muddled with vodka, soaked in gin, even just sliced and floating in a glass of water, the addition of cucumber gives an unparalleled refreshing note, perfect for summertime patio sipping.

Obviously I'm not alone in this -- every cocktail bar in town has at least one cuke drink on its menu, and distillers Effen and Square One both produce vodkas flavored with the fruit. (It grows from a flower and has interior seeds, so yeah, it's a fruit.)

But the cucumber's red-headed stepchild, the pickle, seems to be giving the cuke a run for its money when it comes to bar sales.

Post-shift (or mid-shift, for that matter) shots of Jameson seem to be the status quo in the restaurant industry. When I worked in a kitchen I'd often get swindled into drinking Jameson shots after work, and almost always regretted it -- I hate the lingering whiskey burn that comes afterward. Then I was introduced to the concept of picklebacks -- that is, a shot of Jameson served with a shot of pickle juice to chase it. I was frankly horrified by the idea, but sure enough, the salty brine washed away the whiskey taste immediately. But I'm still a skeptic when it comes to pickle drinks that are meant for sipping rather than shooting.

Recently a friend was raving to me about the pickletini at Black Swan. My first reaction was slight disgust: No thanks, I'll stick with Gabe's coffee bourbon.

The recently opened Oak Cliff cocktail bar Whitehall Exchange also has a pickletini on its menu, alongside more traditional drinks like the Manhattan, and in a moment of rare sober courage I ordered it. (My drinking companion then ordered a cucumber Hendricks martini, and I couldn't help but think he was mocking me a bit.)

The drink arrived with a big ol' pickle spear sticking out of the glass, and I immediately began to question my own judgment for ordering it. The first sip wasn't bad though, icy cold vodka with just a hint of that unmistakable pickle flavor, but as I neared the bottom the brine got more intensely salty, and I felt like I was drinking straight from a barrel of Claussen's.

Odd as it may sound (at least to me), pickle brine has gained popularity as a sports drink, its high sodium content helping it to function as an electrolyte replacer. One night (OK, many nights) I mixed Gatorade and vodka, thinking I would get ahead of the game and cut any potential hangover off at the pass, so I guess pickle cocktails don't seem that off-base -- although I assume most people are drinking them for the taste and not any potential health benefit.

For my money, though, I'll stick with the more subtle elegance of the cucumber. But if you're gonna offer me a Jameson shot, it better come with a pickleback.

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