Many non-alcoholic cocktails call for specialty items and hard-to-find proprietary spirits replacements, but this simple Rickey variation from cocktail blogger Camille Wilson relies on ingredients you may already have on hand. Also known as The Cocktail Snob, Wilson developed this recipe for her 2022 book Free Spirit Cocktails.
The classic Rickey is a tart drink that consists of a spirit (often gin or bourbon), soda water, and lime juice. It remains a favorite in Washington, D.C., where it was purportedly invented.
“The Tonic Rickey is one of my favorite recipes in the book because it’s one I’ve been making for years,” says Wilson. “It was inspired by a mixology class I hosted for a birthday party years ago. Even back then, I wanted to make sure that everyone—drinkers and non-drinkers alike—felt included, and had something tasty to sip on.”
While a classic Rickey entirely omits added sugar, Wilson’s variation includes a half-ounce of simple syrup to create sweetness and body. You can skip the bitters, which add trace amounts of alcohol, but they do contribute needed flavor and depth. If you’re looking to completely avoid alcohol while retaining the drink’s intended flavor profile, try a non-alcoholic bitters brand like All the Bitter Aromatic Bitters.
“One of the things I enjoy about the Tonic Rickey is that the ingredients on their own seem a bit basic and like they don’t belong together,” says Wilson. “But once they’re stirred up with ice, it’s a surprisingly good sip.”
1/2 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounces tonic water
1 1/2 ounces seltzer water
3 dashes Angostura bitters
In a lowball glass filled with ice, add the lime juice and simple syrup. Stir to combine.
Slowly stir in the tonic water and seltzer water.
Top with the bitters and serve.
What Is a Rickey?
The Rickey is said to be named after Colonel Joe Rickey, a Democratic lobbyist living in Washington, D.C. during the late 19th century. After a bartender at the Colonel’s favored watering hole, Schoomaker’s, added lime juice to the Rickey’s highball of bourbon and sparkling water, the cocktail was born. Gin’s popularity eventually caused it to become the drink’s favored spirit, and the Gin Rickey even appeared by name in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. A Rickey competition still takes place annually in its hometown of Washington, D.C.
Do Bitters Have Alcohol?
Angostura bitters contain alcohol but are generally used in such small proportions that only a trace amount makes it into the finished drink. If you want to avoid alcohol entirely, you can reach for a bitter-free brand such as All the Bitter Aromatic Bitters.