The Venerable Rickey Cocktail

RickeyThere are as many recipes for a Rickey as there are recipes for spaghetti sauce or barbecue. The common denominators are citrus (almost always lime), soda water, and ice (for a Rickey, not spaghetti sauce). Gin is now the preferred liquor, but the original was made, believe it or not, with whiskey. 

According to David Wondrich, “Colonel” Joe Rickey was an ex-Confederate, poker playing, Democratic lobbyist who was responsible for inventing the drink that bears his name sometime in the 1880s. General consensus is that the magic happened at Shoomakers in Washington, D.C. It can get very hot and muggy in the nation’s capital, so this drink was just the thing to cool one down. If you drank enough of these, you probably wouldn’t care how hot it was. 

The original recipe called for whiskey, juice of half a lime, ice, and soda water. That’s it. No sweetener was used because sugar “heats the blood, while the Rickey, with its blood-cooling lime juice is highly beneficial.” The medicinal properties of the drink aside, it soon became a style, not a specific recipe. By the time that Kappelar’s Modern American Drinks came out in 1895, everything from brandy to vermouth was fair game. By 1908, bartenders were dropping the squeezed lime into the glass. The Honorable William Boothby suggested scoring the rind of the lime and muddling in the glass. Some revolutionaries were even adding sweeteners to the Rickey. Quelle horreur!z rickey

Original Joe Rickey Cocktail

Couple lumps of ice in a large glass

Whiskey (2 oz rye or bourbon)

Juice of half a lime (more if the lime is very small)

Soda Water to fill

Replacing the whiskey with gin brings you dangerously close to a Tom Collins. However, even Joe Rickey had to concede that the gin version of his drink was here to stay. 

Rickey (Old Waldorf Bar Days, 1931)

Juice and rind of one lime

Lump of ice

Gin or other liquor (2 oz)

Fill from siphon (soda water)

And then there is this:

Rickey (Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 1948)

Juice of ½ Lime (never lemon)

2 oz Liquor

1 tsp. Simple Syrup or 1 tsp. Maraschino liqueur, Grenadine (if using gin), Curacao (whiskey or Brandy)



David Embury has crossed the line, here. His concoction might be tasty, but it ain’t a Rickey. It’s a Daisy.

Try the whiskey original and see if the Tom Collins look-alikes really stand up.

z shoomakers