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The Rickey: The Spirit of D.C.

Since 2008, the DC Craft Bartenders Guild has put together an annual competition honoring the classic cocktail called The Rickey.  This July, bartenders from all over DC will be participating in The Rickey Competition finals where they will present their take on the beloved DC drink. If you're a fan of this drink, then this is an event you don’t want to miss. 

With DC’s The Rickey Competition underway and coming up on July 18th, it’s time to go over the drink's history and what exactly it is.

Who is Joe Rickey?

The accounts of Joseph “Joe” Rickey’s early life differ from source to source. From what can be determined to be true is that Rickey spent much of his young life on the river boats that navigated up and down the Mississippi river. Once the Civil War broke out, he took up arms against his Union supporting family and joined the Confederacy. While stationed in Missouri he fell in love and married a woman named Sallie Howard and built a family with her. 

After the war ended, Rickey found that his charisma suited his ambitions to become a lobbyist in Missouri and eventually Washington D.C. Amongst his peers he was known to be a skilled gambler and had the remarkable ability to get exactly what he wanted. 

The Rickey’s Birth

Much like Rickey’s early life, the drink that bears the same name, also has a murky origin. One version states that the drink came to be when a stranger brought his own lime and put it in his rye whiskey while at the bar. He explained to the bartender that it was a common thing to do in the Caribbean, so the bartender shared this new beverage with Rickey. Alternatively, it was said that Joe Rickey himself came up with it and had George Williamson, the bartender at Shoomaker’s Saloon in D.C., prepare it for him.


(photo via Library of Congress)


Whatever the case may be, the drink’s popularity would take off and debatably eclipse Rickey’s own political triumphs in history. Rickey eventually disavowed The Rickey after gin became a popular replacement for the originally rye beverage. Despite his distaste for gin, Rickey was granted the trademark for the name and the cocktail. 

The Aftermath and Passing of Joseph Rickey

The Rickey, outside of being a popular summertime drink, has made a few appearances in pop culture. One notable example is when it was name dropped in The Great Gatsby in the moments leading up to the confrontation between Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby in the Plaza Hotel. However, Rickey would not live to see this.

On April 23rd 1903, Joseph Rickey went out for a walk through New York despite his doctor’s orders to stay indoors due to his health. On the corner of Broadway and 25th Street, Rickey mysteriously collapsed and later passed away in his home. A bottle of carbonic acid was found on his person and the autopsy report found the poison in his system. His surviving family refused to believe his death was motivated by suicide, but the report was never changed.

The Gin Rickey Recipe

Being a claimed native DC drink in 2011, let’s talk about how to make a Gin Rickey. If you want to follow along with Rickey’s original preferences go ahead and substitute the gin for rye and use lemons. 

First things first, you’re going to need a Collins glass. Place 2 oz. of gin along with 0.5 to 1 oz. of fresh lime juice and 3 to 5 oz. of club soda (depending on the height of the glass and the strength of the cocktail you are making) over ice. To garnish, add a wedge or wheel of lime! 

It may be a basic recipe, but that hasn’t stopped bartenders from getting creative. This cocktail is so easy to make that you too can enjoy your version of it all summer long!











Photo Credit:

Library of Congress -

Jack Sullivan -