Summer Survival Kit Essential #2: the Gin Rickey

We each have our own personal heat misery index. Here in Seattle, it seems like most people have theirs tuned to around 85 degrees Fahrenheit–at least, that’s where the thermometer is hanging when you really start to hear the bitching. After seven years here, I’m becoming more susceptible to it myself. I’m forgetting how miserable a summer day can sometimes be, like when I lived on the East Coast and the subway tunnels functioned like pizza ovens in the middle of the night, when the temperature and humidity were duelling to see which could hang on to 100 for the longest (I know, it still happens–it is happening–just not in my life, not right now). I’ve grown soft.

Still, there are days when the heat makes things uncomfortable, even in Seattle, and on the roughest of those days, I turn to this great heat-misery obliterator, a tried and true summer cooler that predates air-conditioning: the Gin Rickey.

Gin Rickey

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 lime, washed
  • club soda

Squeeze the juice from the lime into a highball glass; toss in the spent shell. Add the gin, and fill the glass with ice. Top with club soda (a spritz from a chilled soda siphon makes preparing this drink extra-satisfying). Stick in a straw, and go sit on the porch.

The rickey’s pedigree as a heat-buster is indisputable. In one of the great tomes of mixology & mixological history, Old Waldorf Bar Days (1931), Albert Stevens Crockett credits its origins to a bartender at a place called Shoemakers, in Washington, D.C.–and DC is no slouch in the heat index department. Shoemakers, Crockett writes, was a favorite watering hole for lobbyists and members of Congress back in the day, and one of these lobbyists was known as Colonel Joe Rickey. During an exceptionally hot spell, one of the bartenders made a new drink by simply squeezing lime juice into a glass containing gin, then hosing it down with the soda siphon. Rickey just happened to be the first patron to try the new drink–says Crockett, “Colonel Rickey was ‘agreeable.’ He quickly tossed off the offering, smacked his lips, announced that it ‘hit the spot,’ and demanded another. Whereupon the barman denominated the drink the ‘Gin Rickey.”

The Rickey’s name and simple ingredient list make it sound like one of your grandfather’s drinks. But this is a time to honor your elders–back in the days before AC, when a little internal temperature control was needed, curious minds came up with great things, and this falls into that category.

One note about the Rickey: some recipes call for sugar to be added to the drink. The writers of these recipes are well-intentioned; they also happen to be wrong. The Rickey needs no sweetener (though, on special occasions, adding a small dash of maraschino liqueur to the glass produces not disagreeable results)–the lime’s tartness is tempered by the gin, and a good dose of seltzer takes the edges off everything. Besides, on a hot day, you want something dry and crisp, that’ll put you back in fighting condition before the next August morning rolls around.

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3 Responses to Summer Survival Kit Essential #2: the Gin Rickey

  1. The addition of maraschino tilts this little tipple towards Aviation country.

    From the Truth is Stranger than Fiction Dept.: Col. Joe in later days became something of a lime magnate and made a fortune.


  2. Wasn’t the original Joe Rickey made with bourbon? Legend has it that the Gin Rickey came a decade later in the 1890s:

    “Only here in New York was it perverted and made a thing of shame. Here they make it with gin, which is a liquor no gentleman could ever bring himself to drink. In fact, the gin rickey is about the only kind known in this city and the average barkeeper looks surprised if you ask him for one made with rye whisky.” — New York Telegraph.

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