The Science Behind Why Pickle Juice And Whiskey Go So Well Together

There are gimmicks, there are hacks, and then there are game-changers. A slug of whiskey followed by a pickle juice shot — a move lovingly called the pickleback — falls in the third category. The combination will seem outlandish to those out of the know, but the drink chaser actually helps you better recover from a shot of whiskey (even the particularly eye-watering ones). In addition to channeling salt's taste-masking superpowers, pickle juice packs another impressive benefit: The vinegar and electrolytes in the brine help keep you hydrated. Add a punchy spice or garlic notes to the pickle juice, and you have a savory gulp that works like a bar snack.

The pickleback is far from being the first head-off-the-hangover strategy. From the brined onions and eggs of yore to modern bar snacks like fried pickles, salty, vinegary accompaniments have been around for decades due to the benefits they offer drinkers (as well as bar proprietors by encouraging customers to drink more). However, its cheapness and accessibility haven't hurt the growing popularity of pairing the two. Pickleback's wallet-friendly nature is even intertwined with its history, as it was traditionally paired with lower-end (often less pure) libations to help them go down more easily. Whether you're planning to try it out of curiosity or are already a fan and wondering why it works so darn well, here's the juice on the pickleback and what makes it the ideal liquor accompaniment.

Pickle juice lets you taste whiskey's subtle flavors

A shot of chilled pickle juice quickly puts out the sharp burn of alcohol. Brine has an interesting effect on taste buds that have been subjected to whiskey, and the result is a pleasant taste that's quite unlike the harsh aftertaste of a shot. Simple salt is the hero here; our minds are so attuned to saltiness that the presence of salt suppresses bitterness. This helps subtler flavors bloom, so consider lightly salting your next homemade cocktail using bitters or amari.

Returning to pickle juice, since the salt dulls the alcohol's bitter kick, it brings out not just the flavors of the liquor but also the other savory notes in the pickle juice. Many seasoned pickleback fans say that classic pickle juice, with its sweet mustard and garlic hit, goes best with whiskey. You can get adventurous by combining different pickle and whiskey flavor profiles. A spicy or bitter whiskey does well with a sweet-salty-garlicky pickle juice. Or, consider turning the flavor tables on their head by combining a smooth whiskey with spicy pickle juice.

The juice also acts like a delicious, savory palate cleanser. The combination is so flavorsome that some bars serve pickle juice and whiskey combinations not as shots but as straight-up dual-glass cocktails to be alternately sipped and savored. The pickle juice physically cleanses your mouth while its pungent aroma resets the olfactory sense, renewing you for that next whiskey sip or shot.

Pickle juice can also help with hangovers

While salt is the star of what's happening in the mouth, vinegar — a popular hangover crutch — helps the rest of the body. You might already be in the habit of adding vinegar to your hair of the dog margarita, and pickle juice brings many of the same benefits. Though it hasn't much been put through the rigors of scientific testing, its high levels of electrolytes like sodium and potassium are one of the reasons that some athletes choose to drink pickle juice in lieu of a sports drink. Vinegar can reduce the frequency of urination, which helps the body remain hydrated and absorb more of the juice's electrolytes.

Because of the high sodium within, drinking pickle juice may not be a good daily habit, but when you're shooting back neat liquor, it can help keep you hydrated. Of course, pickle juice is not a substitute for water; you must also remember to drink plenty of the latter between drinks. One study in the Journal of Athletic Training says that there's little difference between the effect pickle juice and popular carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks have on the body, but that's in a well-hydrated individual. So try garnishing your next whiskey drink with an, if not side of pickle juice, a crunchy cornichon pickle, and marvel at how smoothly the two go down together.