"Have you ever tried a pickle back?" I knew I was in for a long night as soon as I heard the question. We'd just strolled into the Double Wide to let off a little steam. Pickle backs (or pickle shots), for the uninitiated, refer to the pairing of whiskey and pickle juice, straight out of a jar.
It sounds gross, but it works somehow. The green, acidic pickle brine softens that bad whiskey burn, leaving hints of smoke and gherkins in its wake. I've had some top shelf versions, with premium whiskeys and brine from outstanding kitchens. Last night I almost had the more popular take, with Jameson and green juice from a squeeze bottle that had a single dill pickle slice floating about.
"What about sangrita?" I countered, trying to avoid the whiskey-fueled pain-train.
Sangrita. The Mexican drink fills the same role as pickle juice in a pickle back, but does it with a tad more class. It's a mix of tomato juice, citrus and chile, and it makes for a decent sipper on its own when made well. It's like a V8 that calls you gringo. But it completely obliterates tequila when used as a chaser. So well, in fact, I'd wager it's a little dangerous. Tread lightly.
My bartender was as clueless as my drinking partner, so I asked for two shots of tequila, a small cup of Bloody Mary mix and a handful of lemons and limes. What I made wasn't really sangrita; the muddy Worcestershire sauce was off and horseradish didn't belong. But seconds later I knew I got close enough. Heat and citrus cut through the aftermath of a warm tequila glow. I could have done 10 of them. And that's the problem. You're not really enjoying tequila this way. You're just getting tanked.
My arms stuck to the padded bar rail that recalled a torn school bus seat, and a steady flow of women poured in, many inked head to toe, celebrating a Mexican-themed birthday. The DJ spun not vinyl but MP3s in a herky-jerk mix that teased me with Golden Age hip-hop before punching me in the head with Tone-Loc and Billy Ocean. Thinking of my head, and tequila, and Budweiser quaffed in excess, I paid my check and slipped out the door.