The Scientific Reason Pickle Juice Is The Perfect Chaser For Whiskey

Don't knock it until you try it. Chasing a shot of whiskey with cucumber pickle juice, better known as a pickleback, is a popular way to gulp down burning alcohol. It's a great chaser for tequila, vodka, and any other hard alcohol. Intuitively, you might think, this makes no sense. But by the power of science, we can prove why the leftover brine from your pickle jar belongs on your bar cart.


Let's start with flavors: pickle juice is made of vinegar, water, and salt. It tastes salty and sour. Whiskey is the opposite — it has a woodsy, peaty flavor with bitterness and a burning sensation from the alcohol. In the case of flavors (and most other things), opposites attract. The salt from the pickle juice softens the bitterness and tannins of whiskey and cools off the burning sensation of alcohol. Pickle juice will mask any unpleasant flavors from the drink. For those of you cringing at the thought of chasing your fancy aged reserve whiskey with Mt. Olives' kosher dills, this trick is recommended with shots of your less expensive stuff. It works! 

We're bringin' pickleback

Let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Our taste receptors can pick up on sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and savoriness (umami). When we taste something like whiskey, the bitter receptors at the back of the tongue light up, but that's not to say the drink doesn't have other pleasant flavors like caramel and toffee. And, salt can play a major role in enhancing desirable flavors like sweetness and fruitiness while suppressing undesirable ones like bitterness, according to a study in Nature


So, when you chase whiskey with a shot of salty pickle juice, it will taste sweeter and less bitter. Moreover, the sting from alcohol is enhanced by spicy hot flavors. Since pickle juice doesn't have any alcohol, the burning sensation is also cooled by cold pickle juice. And then, the sourness from the vinegar acts as a great palate cleanser.

The same concept applies to salted rims on margaritas, serving tequila shots with limes and salt, and even adding a pinch of salt to espressos. The salt softens the bitterness of tequila and coffee, balancing out the flavors on our palate.

Why so bitter?

We all taste differently. Detecting bitterness in food and finding it palatable largely depends on genetics, according to collaborative research headed up by Pennsylvania State University. There are different kinds of bitterness, like grapefruit and coffee, or olives and whiskey. Some may love one kind of bitterness over the other. This is why some people can sip a whiskey straight, and others need to chase it to extinguish the flavor. And, this is why using a salty chaser is a great way to balance out our unique bitterness perceptions.


Sweet pickle juices go well with sweeter whiskeys. Saltier ones will work well with American whiskeys and even smoky mezcals. Spicy pickle brines are great chasers for tequila (think spicy margarita.) Pickle juice makes for a versatile cocktail ingredient, too. So, no matter your fancy, give this funky ingredient a try the next time you line up shots. It might just have you singing, "I want my pickleback, pickleback, pickleback..."