Words and photos by Farrah Skeiky
In a list based on Facebook responses posted by Zagat DC earlier this week, it was held that the Rickey had become one of the most overrated foods in D.C. “There are better ways to use lime, gin and seltzer,” says a commenter. Sure, this is only a few steps above getting into a Facebook comment war, and maybe a bit passive aggressive, but it’s fairly obvious that this commenter missed the Rickey competition this year.
Alright, the commenter is sort of right, to a certain degree. If we’re in agreement that the standard Rickey is comprised of the aforementioned three ingredients, it’s a simple yet refreshing drink. If Rickeys were only presented in such a straightforward manner in this city, the commenter might be onto something. But that’s not the case, as the Rickey is the city’s official cocktail and has the entire month of July dedicated to it. And that’s the point of the Rickey competition: for one month, the city’s best bars are challenging themselves to make a fairly unremarkable drink into one that’s constantly changing and improving.
This competition is also easily the most valid of the multitude of cocktail throwdowns that exist in this city, because it’s not beholden to a sponsor. Sure, Half Moon Gin and Knob Creek Rye made it a little easier for the last seven standing to produce enough drinks for over 200 people, but other than that, bartenders and mixologists had free reign as far as what would go into their drink. That can get a little dangerous, and the judges know that– there’s only so much you can do to a Rickey until it’s not a Rickey anymore. The traditional structure still has to be in place. And that’s why for four hours at Jack Rose, the most frequently spoken sentence escaping everyone’s lips was, “well, that’s not even a Rickey anymore.” A very contentious affair, you see.
It’s hard not to get carried away when the word “innovation” is also flying around, but the competing bars had to be innovative to stand out. With fifty-two competing bartenders this year, you either lead the pack or go home. Simple isn’t enough to get you to the next round. This group was up to the task, though, producing everything from Rickeys that used mango (Sixth Engine), fermenting vegetables to create sodas in house (Daikaya), and making sure their bar’s staple booze was part of the cocktail (Mockingbird Hill). When it came time to hand off the trophy, Lukas Smith and Daikaya jovially accepted for the Supafly Rickey, a concoction of gin, cured sweet potato soda, lemongrass and rose water.
The D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild may not have realized this, but when they declared July to be Rickey Month, they tasked the competing bars with not only a creative challenge, but an honorable one: keeping this cocktail alive and relevant. If the Rickey in its most traditional form was touted as the greatest drink this city has ever seen, that might make it overkill. But when it’s revived and reimagined every summer by dozens of excellent drinking establishments, this refreshing drink becomes an educational one.
The lineup of competing bars and cocktails for this year’s Rickey finals are as follows:
- Supafly Rickey, Lukas Smith of Daikaya (winner)
- Vanilla-Key Rickey, Dustin Beruta of Cashion’s Eat Place (second place)
- Rickey Del Mar, Casey Hristakos of Sixth Engine (third place)
- Asian Wickey, Jo-Jo Valenzuela of Sixth Engine
- Yabba Dabba Dorickey, Eve Maier of Hank’s Oyster Bar
- High Rock Rickey, Galen Odell-Smedley of Mockingbird Hill
- Rickey #7, Brian Nixon of Rose’s Luxury