All photos: Stephanie Breijo
The Rickey is the official cocktail of Washington D.C., created in the 1883 at a bar called Shoomaker’s for a regular there, powerful Democratic lobbyist and “gentleman gambler” Colonel Joe Rickey. The story goes that the Colonel’s influential friends on the Hill started coming in asking for “That Joe Rickey drink” and the name stuck. That the drink of lime, sparkling mineral water, and bourbon (later bourbon or gin) would catch on in 1880s Washington is little surprise – our city’s sweltering summer heat and humidity make the refreshing drink nearly essential.
Fast forward over a century (which included mention of the drink in no less than The Great Gatsby, by the way) and the DC Craft Bartenders Guild took on their own lobbying project which lead to having the Rickey proclaimed as the District’s Official Native Cocktail and establishing July as Rickey Month.
To celebrate Rickey Month, bartenders from across the metro area craft their own variations on the formula and put them on the menu at their bars. Drinkers are encouraged to travel around to the various participating locations and taste-test, leading up to a big finale party where the winner of the friendly competition is declared (and everybody gets to drink a bunch of delicious drinks).
For a classic Rickey, the recipe is very simple: 2oz of bourbon or gin; half a lime, squeezed, hull dropped in the glass; and sparkling Apollinaris mineral water, served over ice. If you like a visual, Derek Brown drew you this. For #RickeyMonth2012, there are 35 original variations available which find ways to embellish on this simple formula – primarily through crafting homemade sodas, tinctures, and infusions to mix in.
In an attempt to get a sense of all the multiplicity of offerings, we invited sixteen of the city’s top bartenders to meet us at Adams Morgan’s Jack Rose Dining Saloon – site on August 5th of the finale party – to show us how they make their Rickey and give us a taste. These bartenders represent only a fraction of the participants – but we can honestly say there was not an unpleasant drink in this batch.
Joseph David Cleveland, Oyamel – The Ricardo
This nearly-classic, super-refreshing version had clean, green, vegetal notes, cool cucumber flavor – and one of the prettiest cucumber garnishes around.
Alexandra Nichols, Estadio – Rickey Cristina Barcelona
From the woman who makes some of the best soda-based drinks around, this sophisticated drink with a lingering white pepper aftertaste is no exception.
Amy Russel, Jack Rose – Rickey Verde
Savory, sweet, a touch sour, all in one, in all the best ways. This salsa-inspired Rickey made with tomatillo, cucumber, and cilantro is truly original.
Ashley Schmidt – Jack Rose – Rickey Beach
Inspired by Ashley’s upbringing in Florida, this fun, lightly sweet, tropical number features La Croix coconut sparkling water.
Katie Nelson, The Columbia Room – Shandy Rickey
Featuring Flying Dog Underdog Atlantic Lager, this is a major upgrade to the typical shandygaff (beer + lemonade). Fresh grated nutmeg on top is delightfully fragrant and pulls out notes of the bourbon within.
Timothy Burt, Tabard Inn – Rangatira Rickey
The Maori-insprired name gives a hint at the kiwi element of this drink – but the tropical element is restrained by a Riesling soda with bright under-ripe fruit notes and creates a refined finished product. (Tip: nibble the Sorrel leaf garnish to enhance the flavor experience.)
Jade Aldrighette, The Passenger – India Pale Rickey
Beer cocktails are trendy – and this one takes the trend even further by using the IPA beer to make a syrup which is combined with grapefruit and maple wood chips in a soda that is beautifully deep and rich when combined with bourbon.
Julia Hurst, The Passenger – Rosemary’s Rickey
Are there people who dislike the smell of rosemary? If they exist, this is not the drink for them. For the rest of us, the nose on this is amazing and the herbal, culinary-inspired flavor profile delights.
Josh Berner, Ripple – Gin-Smoked Gin Rickey
Smoked-juniper infused gin is enhanced with a singed bit of lemon peel – and, somehow, it magically all combines to create an intensely vanilla-flavored almost creamsicle-like cocktail.
Rico Wisner, Bar Rouge & Topaz Bar
Bright, lightly sour celery flavor from celery juice infused with chamomile. Grassy, vegetal, and ever so garden-party-appropriate.
Chantal Tseng, Tabard Inn – Rainforest Rickey
The fresh coconut aroma hits the nose first and prepares the palette for this summer vacation in a glass. Sweet and fruity but not at all cloying with notes of maté tea, the drink has layers of flavor and is truly fun.
Patrick Owens, Tabard Inn – RICKEA
Even without the IKEA-inspried craft project made with a custom-carved rubber stamp, this lingonberry concoction would send our thoughts Sweden-ward. The juicy, berry-full drink is almost compulsively quaffable and ranks among the very few hot-pink-colored cocktails I have ever really liked.
Rachel Sergi, Jack Rose – I’m Gonna Need For You To Focus, Rickey
The flavor of this pickle-back-inspired Rickey comes as a complete surprise after the briny, pickle-y aroma. Instead of a vinegary, bracing taste, the drink is sweet – among the sweetest in our sample in fact – and orangey from the fresh-squeezed juice.
Benny Hurwitz, Jack Rose – Citrodora Rosado Rickey
Herbaceous with an Asian twist, this combo of Thai basil, pink peppercorn tincture and lemon verbena soda hues close to the original Rickey, but with a fresh and tasty update.
Jessica Woods, Room 11 – Put The Lime In The Coconut Rickey
The most dessert-like option we sampled, with carbonated-to-order coconut water this fun summertime sip would probably make namesake songwriter Harry Nilsson proud (if he had not died in 1994, that is).
Eddie Kim, Room 11 – I Heard Rickey’s A Jerk
Concepted after enjoying a meal of Jamaican jerk chicken washed down with a Red Stripe, this Rickey includes a jerk-spice shrub, smoked bourbon, sugar cane, and beer from that famous stubby bottle. A strong savory flavor with charred scallion and habanero heat.
And now for some behind the scenes photos…