There are many measures for leaving your mark on this world. Some are subjective, but others—like changing history to the point that a monument is named after you—are undeniable. Colonel Joe Rickey didn’t get a monument in his hometown of Washington, D.C., but he did receive a cocktail. And, as far as drinking legend is concerned, that’s just as good.
The Bourbon Rickey is a highball that was named for the Democratic lobbyist, who lived in the nation’s capital during the late 19th century. As the story goes, he was known to partake in beverages at Shoomaker’s bar. And, as Mr. Rickey favored drinks with zero sugar, he often requested a simple combination of bourbon and sparkling water. It’s easy to see how this simple duo could provide refreshment during the pre-A/C days of wearing suits all summer long.
One day, the bartender, a helpful chap named George Williamson, added freshly squeezed lime to the highball, and the Bourbon Rickey was born. The serendipitous trio walks the line between a Whiskey Sour (whiskey, citrus, sugar) and a Whiskey Collins (whiskey, citrus, sugar, sparkling water). It’s tart, dry, thirst-quenching and surprisingly balanced, even without a dose of sugar to tame the other ingredients. If you’re making one at home, choose your preferred bourbon for mixing. Fresh lime is nonnegotiable, and a good bottle of sparkling water will give the drink the proper bubbly bite.
The Bourbon Rickey is a historical drink to be sure, but the Rickey didn’t reach widespread appeal until the 1890s, when it was more commonly made with gin. That trend continued, and even today, the Gin Rickey is much better known among barkeeps and consumers. But let’s never forget its bourbon-spiked predecessor, which is not a riff, but the original.
It’s said that Joe Rickey grew weary of his cocktail outshining his political achievements. So, the next time you raise a Bourbon Rickey to your lips, remember the eponymous lobbyist behind it. And then maybe Google his achievements.
- 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
- 1/2 lime, freshly squeezed
- Sparkling water, to top
Fill a highball glass with ice.
Squeeze the lime half into the glass and drop it in.
Add the bourbon and fill with sparkling water.
Stir briefly to combine.