The gin- or bourbon-based cocktail created in Washington, D.C., in the 1800s just might be summer’s perfect quaffer.
During the hot and hazy days of summer, when everyone’s feeling more than a little bit wilted, it can be too much effort to get out the cocktail shaker (first world drinking problem, we know). But seriously, especially this month, you want sweet relief and you want it fast. Enter the Rickey. This libation was created in the late 1800s at Shoomaker’s Saloon, a local watering hole popular with D.C. politicians. Lobbyist Joe Rickey used to start each day with a pre-work bourbon; one day he decided to ask for it topped with soda and garnished with a squeeze of lime, and the Rickey was born. (Today, a Rickey contains either bourbon or gin.)
In 2011, the tipple was named “Washington, D.C.’s Native Cocktail”. Each July the District celebrates Rickey Month, during which bartenders create their own takes (some of which admittedly stray pretty far from the original), culminating in a competition to see which version reigns supreme.
It really doesn’t matter: every Rickey is pretty much perfect. It’s built in the glass (i.e., no pesky shaker to look for) and it’s forgiving even if you’d rather eyeball the ingredients than measure them in a jigger. And its combination of spirit, citrus and effervescence is just what you need on that porch swing, patio or pool deck. As Lee Carrell, bar manager at The Royal in D.C. puts it, "[The Rickey is] light on sugar, refreshing with citrus and soda, simple to make and really just one of the best ways to beat the city heat." Start with the original, then up your game with one of these variants:
“Retox Detox” Rickey
Recipe courtesy of Denise Jauregui, Bartender, Jack Rose Dining Saloon, Washington, D.C.
Coconut is well-known for its antioxidant (and purported hangover-curing) benefits. Her Rickey gets a double dose of coconut, with fat-washed gin and non-sweetened, zero calorie coconut sparkling water. "I created this Rickey to satisfy people like me who are dedicated to healthy eating but also enjoy indulging in a cocktail or two, or three,” Jauregui says. “This Rickey truly combines the best of both worlds - you can detox while you retox!”
- 1 oz. coconut-washed Edinburgh Gin (see Note)
- 1/2 oz. fresh ginger juice
- 1/4 oz. simple syrup
- La Croix Coconut Sparkling Water
- Himalayan palm sugar rim (see Note)
Rim a Collins glass with the palm sugar and baby kale mixture. Build the drink in the glass over ice and stir gently.
For the coconut-washed Edinburgh Gin:
Combine 1 750ml bottle of Edinburgh Gin, 7 oz. coconut oil and 2 drops of coconut extract in a blender. Freeze for 1 hour or until the coconut has solidified. Separate and strain the gin.
For the Himalayan palm sugar and baby kale rim:
Combine 1 cup of Himalayan sea salt and coconut palm sugar. Grind using a spice grinder, then add 3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper.
Such is Mango Rickey
Recipe courtesy of Lee Carrell, Bar Manager, The Royal, Washington, D.C.
Carrell built this Rickey riff around a charred lime. “The centerpiece of The Royal’s kitchen is this beautiful wood-fire grill, so I fused the culinary and bar programs to give the drink some unique savory notes,” he says. “The mango shrub and pepper syrup add the perfect amounts of sweet, spice and tart, playing off the light char.”
- 1/2 lime
- 1/2 oz. white peppercorn / serrano syrup (see Note)
- 2 oz. mango shrub (see Note)
- 1 ½ oz. Hamilton 86 Rum
- Club soda
Cut a lime in half and char on the grill. Let cool, then squeeze juice into Collins glass and drop shell into bottom of glass. Fill glass halfway with ice. Add 1/2 oz of white peppercorn / serrano syrup, 2 oz. of mango shrub, and 1 1/2 oz. of Hamilton 86-proof rum. Fill with club soda, and use stir spoon to gently incorporate ingredients.
For the white peppercorn / serrano syrup:
Put 1/2 lb. cleaned and seeded serrano peppers in a bowl. Add 4 oz. of cane sugar, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks. Once it’s steeped, boil 8 oz. water and 2 oz. white peppercorns for 20 minutes. Cool slightly, strain over the serrano / sugar mixture, and mix until sugar is dissolved. Strain out solids, and store in the refrigerator.
For the mango shrub:
Dice 1 lb. mango and add to a bowl. Add 8 oz. cane sugar, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks. Once steeped, add 8 oz. of white wine vinegar, mix, strain out solids, and store in the refrigerator.
Parsley for the Course
Recipe courtesy of Brittney Roberson, Bartender, Jack Rose Dining Saloon, Washington, D.C.
Roberson says that parsley – widely available in summer – is a classic partner with orange. "The idea behind Parsley for the Course was to create a Rickey that was bright, a bit savory and clean in finish,” she explains. “Using lemon peel in the syrup brightens the sweeter notes in the bourbon and fresh orange juice, and the ginger soda binds all the flavors together and adds refreshing carbonation.”
- 1 1/2 oz. bourbon
- 1/4 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice
- 3/4 oz. parsley citrus syrup (see Note)
- Ginger soda (see Note)
Add all ingredients to a highball glass over ice, and stir gently.
For the parsley citrus syrup:
Make a simple syrup by simmering equal parts sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved. Remove it from the heat, and add three parts of fresh parsley (including stems and leaves) and one part lemon peel. Allow the mixture to steep for 30 minutes, then strain out solids.
For the ginger soda:
Finely chop peeled ginger stalks and add to a pot of boiling water (using enough to fully submerge the ginger.) Cook on low, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and charge in a soda siphon.
Raspberry Gin Rickey
Recipe courtesy of Tasty Burger, Washington, D.C.
David DuBois, CEO of the Tasty Burger chain, said that opening in D.C. gave the concept a chance to finally create a cocktail list. “We’ve been serving a non-alcoholic Homemade Raspberry Lime Rickey since opening in 2010, and it was important to us to offer a boozy version in D.C., the birthplace of the Rickey.” Feel free to use a commercially available raspberry syrup, or make your own by steeping fresh raspberries into a just-made simple syrup, then straining out the solids.
- 1 1/2 oz. gin
- 1 oz. raspberry syrup
- 1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
- Soda water
- Lime wedge, for garnish
Add ice to a Highball glass. Add the gin, syrup, lime juice and club soda, stir gently, and garnish with the lime wedge.
Aero Club Bar Bourbon Rickey
Recipe courtesy of Aero Club Bar, San Diego, California
“We absolutely love to play around with this refreshing cocktail on hot summer days or even hotter nights in the club,” says Chad Berkey, vice-president of Tin Play, LLC, which operates this bar in sunny San Diego. “This citrus and soda driven classic is a crowd favorite throughout a night of hard dancing or soaking up the sun by the pool.” Using different types of fruit – from blueberries to raspberries – adds flavor and enhances color.
- 1 1/2 oz. Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon
- 1/2 oz. simple syrup
- 1/2 oz. sour mix
- Orange wedge
- Lime wedge
- Sparkling mineral water
Muddle the orange and lime wedge in the bottom of a Collins glass. Build the drink in the glass over ice, and stir gently to combine.
The Original Rickey
There is nothing like the classic. It’s easy to mix up and you probably already have everything you need for it.
- 2 oz. gin or bourbon
- Juice of 1 lime
- Club soda
- Lime wedge, for garnish
Build the drink in the glass over ice, and garnish with the lime wedge.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C., area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.