Philadelphia is a stand-up cocktail city. With spots like the Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Southwark, and Village Whiskey, there's a deluge of good drinks and even better bartenders. But the most talked-about, buzzy, lusted-after cocktail in town right now doesn't feature crème de violette or Carpano Antica or any of that other fancy stuff. It's Hillbilly Gatorade—a savory mixture of barbecue sauce, pickle juice, and Miller High Life (pictured).
While it might sound like something created with the leftovers of a Memorial Day barbecue by your 12-year-old third cousin from West Virginia, it was in fact invented by Steve Book, an owner of Percy Street Barbecue, where it is served. And according to manager Paul Strubeck, it's his best-selling drink. Hillbilly Gatorade is no anomaly. It's actually a glimpse into an entire—largely forgotten—subcategory of drinks: hicktails.
Hillbillies have played a larger role in the history of cocktails than the arm-garter-and-mustache crowd may care to admit. As William Grimes points out in Straight Up or On the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail, backwoods farmers of Kentucky gave us bourbon. And one of the booze industry's biggest contemporary trends—white whiskey—is a direct descendant of the Appalachian hillbilly's greatest gift to society: moonshine. One of the most famous drinks in the modern mixological canon—the caipirinha—translates loosely into "little hillbilly," since cachaça was once considered the drink of the lower class in Brazil.
That said, if you go flipping through your Mr. Boston Bartender's Guide, most of the cocktails with the "hillbilly" moniker will be horrid, undrinkable concoctions (see the Beverly Hillbilly, a layered shot consisting of schnapps, 100-proof cinnamon liqueur, and Jägermeister). But a few of those libations are delicious in spite of themselves, or helpful to know when you're short on mixers, or just plain fun to have in your quiver when everyone's getting bored with their sophisticated sidecars. So, without further ado, I present five hicktails that I will (after at least three drinks) proudly stand behind.
Combine 1/2 ounce of barbecue sauce and 1 1/2 ounces of pickle juice over ice in a pint glass and stir. Then fill 'er up with Miller High Life.
Flaming Dr. Pepper
Fill most of a shot glass with 151-proof rum and top off with an amaretto liqueur. Then light it on fire. Drop that concoction into a pint glass that's 1/4 filled with beer (pilsner works well) and shoot it directly, like an Irish Car Bomb. Tastes just like Dr. Pepper!
Make a margarita—preferably of the frozen variety, using lots of cheap tequila. Pop open a mini-Corona and stick that thing upside down in your drink. Yup.
Hillbilly Margarita (a.k.a. Rita)
Can't find a bottle of margarita mix? No prob, Bob—just add some tequila to a Rita's Water Ice. Done.
Pour 2 ounces of your favorite white whiskey into a highball glass filled with ice and top off with Mountain Dew (originally slang for moonshine). Them thar's a drank, son!
—Christopher Ross (@cgallagherross), assistant editor at Details