July is Rickey Month in DC, and that’s not just a passing fad – the District’s city council named the gin rickey “the native cocktail” of DC in 2011. And it’s the perfect month to partake in the beverage, which is at its core a refreshing libation that seems designed for passing away the hot, humid and long days of a DC heat wave. Plus, the cocktail also has a uniquely DC tale of origin.
“History says that the ‘rickey’ cocktail was born in the late 1800s at Shoomaker’s Saloon,” explains Maria Concepcion, lead bartender at The Ashlar Restaurant and Bar in Old Town Alexandria, Va. At The Ashlar, Concepcion delivers a lineup of revamped, Colonial-era cocktails, and she’s an expert on the background of everything she pours up.
“Cabinet members and politicians spent most of their drinking days at Shoo’s, and one such infamous regular was democratic lobbyist Colonel Joe Rickey,” continues Concepcion. “He imbibed some serious rickeys, and it was said that his version was whiskey, ice and seltzer from bartender George A. Williamson.”
Colonel Rickey preferred the drink to such a degree that it was named for him. From there, the drink took on a life of its own – soon a squeeze of lime was added, and then gin became its favored spirit. While that remains so to this day, feel free to personalize your own rickey.
“Just like every other cocktail ever made, people always look for the next cool thing,” says Concepcion. “There are thousands of beautifully-made spirits out there to do riffs on.”
But certain components must remain constant for a proper rickey.
“I believe the drink is made to be a dry, savory concoction, and I like to keep it that way on every twist made,” she says. “And a nice, super fizzy seltzer!”
Try your hand at home with Concepcion’s recipe for the A Lil’ R&R, with 1 oz. Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum, 1 oz. Broadbent Rainwater Madeira and .5 oz. lime juice, topped with Fever-Tree Soda Water. Or order it up at The Ashlar to see how Concepcion gets it done. For a full summer’s worth of refreshing cocktails, Concepcion has a final tip.
“I highly recommend buying an iSi Soda Siphon – it’s a good investment for home, as good seltzers can be a bit pricey,” she says. “Another awesome suggestion is to batch out the whole cocktail and throw it in the iSi Soda Siphon, charge it, then pour over ice!”
Elsewhere around town, visit Dupont Circle’s BLT Steak for a trio of new rickeys from beverage director James Nelson. The lineup includes the You Put the Lime in the Coconut, with white rum, coconut liqueur, house-made lemon lime soda and lime juice; the Watcha Drinking Ricky, with bourbon and smoked pineapple syrup; and the Pimm Pickled a Pickled Pepper, with gin, Pimm’s and a roasted red pepper syrup. All three are available in a tasting flight for $18.
For another rickey riff, check out Dino’s Grotto in Shaw for their Blood Orange Rickey ($12 or $8 during happy hour). Dino’s variation includes house-made, blood orange-infused gin, fresh lime juice, house-made grapefruit syrup and soda. Or head to Radiator in the 14th Street Corridor for the Rickey Goes to Hawaii ($12), made with Aviation gin, lime juice and li hing powder.
Finally, culminate your month-long rickey journey by experiencing all of the best that the city’s bartenders have to offer. Visit Jack Rose in Adams Morgan on July 31 as the bar plays host to the DC Craft Bartenders Guild’s rickey competition finals.