Words by Logan Hollers
Photos by Clarissa Villondo
Some of the best and brightest in the D.C. bar scene met Sunday afternoon to celebrate D.C.’s very own Rickey cocktail.
The Rickey, consisting of any base spirit with lime juice and sparkling mineral water or soda, is D.C.’s native cocktail, invented in 1883 at Shoomaker’s by George A. Williamson and named after Colonel Joe Rickey. In fact, D.C. is one of only two cities in the nation with its own signature cocktail (sharing that honor with New Orleans and the Sazerac, of course).
Established and put on by the DC Craft Bartenders Guild, the annual Rickey Competition is one of the largest and longest-running bartending competitions in the District, challenging bartenders to reimagine the District’s native cocktail in creative ways while staying true to the idea of the original.
Over 20 bars in the District are competing in Rickey Month, with each bar’s Rickey version being featured on their menus.
After a grueling semifinals, the final eight competitors met on Sunday at Jack Rose to craft their Rickeys for guests and judges. In the end, only one reigned supreme as the Rickey Champion.
Competing bartenders included Jose Cox from BLT Steak, Lindsay Parsons from Radiator, Sam Nellis from the Red Hen, Kevin Tangonan from BLT Steak, Walter Raubeson from Le Diplomate, Andy Bixby from Dram and Grain, Chris Martino from Taqueria del Barrio, and Sarah Rosner from Radiator.
While all of the Rickeys being served certainly lived up to Derek Brown’s “air conditioning in a glass” label, highlights for BYT were Jose Cox’s 1 Step to Ricardo, combining Edinburgh gin, a lemongrass cordial, lime juice, bergamot bitters, and a sprinkle of saffron; and Sam Nellis’s Chained Mermaid with Edinburgh gin, white port, lime, and a ridiculously complex salt and pepper and vinegar soda.
In the end, home field advantage paid off, as esteemed judges Jo-Jo Valenzuela (last year’s Rickey Champion), Owen Thompson (of Archipelago and the DC Craft Bartenders Guild founder), and Garrett Peck (booze historian and author of Prohibition in Washington D.C. – How Dry We Weren’t) awarded the Rickey championship belt to Jack Rose’s own Dram and Grain for their Joe Rickey’s Jarritos, a deeply-flavored drink that combined Bulleit Bourbon, lime bitters, mineral water, and a homemade fermented tamarind syrup.
D.C. far too often falls prey to the inferiority complex when it comes to our drinking and dining scene – events like this prove that our city’s bartenders can hold their own with anyone while still celebrating the city’s booze-filled history.