New Orleans has the Sazerac. San Francisco has Pisco Punch. And Washington, DC has the Rickey. When late nineteenth century lobbyist Colonel Joe Rickey squeezed lime and soda water into his morning Bourbon at Shoomaker’s Bar, a new drink was born, and his original recipe has evolved now to include either whiskey or gin. A few years back, the members of DC’s Craft Bartenders Guild declared each July to be Rickey Month. Each year they hold a spirited competition to find the District’s best take on the refreshing sip.
What makes the Rickey the perfect summer drink? Fizz and acid, claim ThinkFoodGroup Beverage Director Jill Zimorski. It’s got a simple base that’s both enjoyable on its own as well as easily (and infinitely) customizable. And, as she points out, the Rickey is served in a tall glass over ice—perfect to hold against your brow on muggy, sticky days for cooling relief that no mere Martini can deliver.
Mixologist Chantal Tseng of the Tabard Inn agrees, adding that, “the Rickey is pure refreshment without the extra sugar. “It’s a nice reminder that not every drink with a sour citrus needs a lot or even any sugar to back it up.” Her Hop Toad Rickey was inspired by the “lovable rogue” Mr. Toad of Toad Hall in Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows". That character had lots of bad habits for which he got into trouble—kind of like Colonel Joe himself.
There is no doubt that the Rickey’s irresistible thirst-quenching quality makes it relevant, while its historical roots make it culturally important (there is even a Rickey Wiki entry now, thanks to Bartender Guild member and Columbia Room owner/mixologist Derek Brown.) A generous shot of spirit, combined with a dash of history and politics, and topped with effervescence. The quintessential antidote to the dog days of summer. That’s the Rickey.
The Classic Rickey
1 ½ oz. gin or Bourbon
Juice of ½ lime
Carbonated water or club soda
1 lime wedge, for garnish
Pour juice of lime and gin or bourbon into a chilled highball glass over ice. Fill with carbonated water or club soda, and stir. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Hop Toad Rickey
Courtesy of Chantal Tseng, The Tabard Inn, Washington, DC
Chantal Tseng combines aromatic gin, lime, and verbena with earthy Matcha tea and in-season peach juice for an inspired take on the Rickey that “combines an historic playfulness with an earthy, herby and fruity sensibility.”
1 1/2 oz. Hendricks Gin
Juice of 1 ½ key limes and their shells
3-4 oz. Matcha tea/Peach siphoned soda (See Note)
Dash Verbena Essence (or a lemon verbena leaf smacked or muddled to release oils)
Sprig of Lemon Basil, for garnish
Fill a tall glass with cracked ice. Add gin, lime juice and shells, soda and verbena essence or leaf. Stir, and garnish with a sprig of lemon basil.
Note: For the siphoned soda, Tseng brews Matcha tea and mixes it with peach juice in a two to one ratio, then adds 8-10 drops of her housemade Verbena Essence and about a half teaspoon of Xanthum gum for texture before charging the mixture in a soda siphon. For an easier mixer, combine the Matcha tea/peach juice with carbonated water, to taste.
Hot Date with a Matador
Courtesy of Patrick Owens, lead bartender at Jaleo, Washington, DC
2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
½ oz. Campari
1 oz Date syrup (see recipe below)
¼ oz. fresh lime juice Sparkling water (Owens uses Spanish brand Cabreiora)
Add Bourbon, Campari, date syrup and lime juice to shaker filled with ice. Shake quickly, and pour over a tall chilled glass filled with new ice. Top with sparkling water.
For the date syrup:
¾ cup (around 6 or 7) organic Medjool dates, pitted and diced
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups water
¾ tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 ¼ tbsp Arbol chili powder
Bring dates, peppercorns, water and sugar to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer 15 minutes, and then add chili powder and simmer five additional minutes. Remove from stove, cover and allow to steep for two to three hours. Refrigerate overnight, and then strain through cheesecloth. Store the syrup in the refrigerator in a container with a tightly fitting lid for up to several weeks.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.