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.