This refreshing drink is “air conditioning in a glass”
In the US, July can be the hottest month of the year. So most of us are eating light — and drinking lighter — to avoid overheating.
Sure, these days we have air conditioning. But what to do at all those outdoor functions that seem to be so popular this time of the year? Like tomorrow’s big Independence Day blowout?
Enter the Gin Rickey. This refreshing mix of lime, gin, and club soda (or seltzer) is the ultimate cooler. It’s a tall drink that takes a while to finish — giving you time to enjoy its great flavor without risking overindulgence. And for those avoiding alcohol, it’s easy to make a mocktail version.
July 4th is America’s birthday. And it just so happens that this drink was created in our nation’s capital (circa 1883). It has even been designated Washington, DC’s “native drink.”
So it’s practically our patriotic duty to drink a Gin Rickey on the 4th of July, don't you think?
Recipe: The Gin Rickey
The original rickey was probably made with bourbon (more about that in Notes). But before long, people decided that gin was the better spirit for this drink. So today, when we think of a rickey, we inevitably think of gin. In truth, however, you can substitute any liquor you like and still call it a rickey. (Prefer rum? Then you have a rum rickey. And so forth.) I think gin makes the best (and certainly the most refreshing) version of this cocktail — although the whiskey iteration isn’t bad either.
This drink originally was made with Old Tom gin — at least according to Washington, DC mixologist extraordinaire Derek Brown (the link is to his video). Brown, who may know more about the rickey than anyone else, popularized the tag line “air conditioning in a glass.” He also played an instrumental role in getting the Gin Rickey officially named Washington DC’s “native cocktail.”
Old Tom gin,which has a hint of sweetness, is no longer widely used. Today, most people make the drink with dry (London) gin, and without any sugar. Traditionally, this drink contains the juice of half a lime (which usually is about ½ ounce). I prefer a bit more lime myself (maybe ¾ ounce). But feel free to adjust the amount of lime juice — and the amount of club soda or sparkling water — to your own taste. Just don’t overdo the lime, since that will make the drink too sour.
This drink originally was served in a wine glass. And it looks mighty attractive that way! Today, it’s more commonly served in a tall glass (which is my preference). The photos show the drink both ways.
This recipe takes a few minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- 2 ounces gin (I think Plymouth or Beefeater works well)
- ½ - ¾ ounce lime juice (try less at first, then add more if your taste buds crave more lime)
- 3 to 4 ounces of club soda or seltzer water (or to taste; see Notes)
- half of a squeezed (hollowed out) lime shell as garnish (traditional; you can also substitute a lime slice or wheel — see Notes)
- Add lime juice to the serving glass (traditionally, you squeeze the juice of half a lime directly into the glass). Toss in the hollowed out lime shell, if using. Add gin and several ice cubes.
- Top up the glass with club soda or seltzer water. Stir once or twice to mix. If you aren’t using the lime shell, add a couple of lime slices to the glass (and perhaps garnish the rim with a lime slice or wedge). Serve.
- Although a hollowed out lime shell is the traditional garnish for this drink, I often don’t use it. Instead, I add a few lime slices to the drink itself, and perch a lime wheel on the rim of the glass as a garnish. I just prefer that look.
- But do add something with lime peel to the drink itself — either the hollowed out shell or a few lime slices. The oils from the lime peel add an interesting dimension.
- Some say the original water used in the rickey was a sparkling mineral water (specifically, the Apollinaris brand). I think regular club soda works OK, but you might want to try this.
- There’s a version of the Gin Rickey that adds a couple dashes of Angostura bitters and an ounce (give or take) of dry vermouth. Not as good as the original, IMO, but not bad.
- If you want to make a mocktail version of this drink, just omit the booze. You’ll probably want to increase the amount of lime to give it a bit more flavor. In that case, you may also want to add just a bit of sugar if the drink seems too sour.
- The rickey was invented in the 1880s and named for Colonel Joe Rickey, a political lobbyist who reportedly was also an expert poker player. The birth of the rickey is said to have occurred at Shoomaker’s Bar, which was located at 1331 E Street in Washington, DC (the current site of the JW Marriott Hotel). Some people called Shoomaker’s the “third house of the Congress” because it was so popular with influential politicians. It was also a hangout for newspapermen and lobbyists.
- The original drink contained whiskey (most likely bourbon) — and today the bourbon version is called the Joe Rickey. But the gin rendition became more popular sometime in the early 1890s, and few people drink the whiskey version nowadays.
- The gin version is exceptionally refreshing in hot weather (it has a lighter taste than whiskey). So it’s not surprising that, by the time the 20th century rolled around, it was a popular heat-fighting beverage.
The Great Rickey
Gin Rickeys have a walk-on role in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. At a key point in the book, Nick Carraway (the narrator) arrives with Jay Gatsby to have lunch with Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Lounging with them is Jordan Baker, Daisy’s best friend, to whom Nick is attracted. Gatsby has long been obsessed with Daisy, a former debutante who was way out of his social league when they first met. Now that Gatsby has made a pile of (ill-gotten) money, he’s pursuing her again, and the two have begun a lusty relationship.
The day of the lunch is beastly hot, and Daisy asks Tom to mix everyone a cool drink. He obliges with a round of preprandial Gin Rickeys. It’s during this lunch that Tom realizes what’s going on between Daisy and Gatsby. After lunch, Daisy suggests that they all go into New York City . . . just because. This initiates a series of events that leads to the story’s tragic end. (Gatsby is a terrific read, BTW — one of my favorite 20th century novels.)
Fitzgerald himself knew a thing or two about gin. It was his elixir of choice (he claimed the aroma didn’t linger on his breath). And although he indulged in many libations, he was especially partial to the Gin Rickey.
Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda led a riotous life during the 1920s, exemplifying the excesses that the “Roaring Twenties” were famous for. Examples? They entertained themselves by jumping into the fountain at New York City’s Plaza Hotel. They boiled guests’ watches and other valuables in tomato sauce at a party. Invited to a spur-of-the moment “come as you are” party, they showed up in their pajamas (Zelda soon shed hers and danced naked). Just a couple of crazy kids in a crazy, crazy world.
The world’s still crazy, but Mrs Kitchen Riffs and I are not. Well, not usually. So although summer is here, we’ll enjoy our cooling, soothing Gin Rickeys in moderation. And we’ll never, ever leave home in our pajamas.
You may want to keep an eye on your watch, though. You never can tell.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Gin and Tonic
Sloe Gin Fizz
Want. Now. And it's only 9:30 in the morning. The lime slices seem far more elegant than a hollowed out lime shell—my guess is that was just lazy/cheap bartenders not wanting to waste the shells after squeezing the juice out for the drink.
Your gin Ricky is one refreshing little cocktail. One of my favorite drinks is a gin and tonic with lots and lots of lime so I know I would love this. So that whole thing about people walking out and about in their PJ's. Just this morning at my local grocery store, here in Hong Kong, a man was gathering his groceries not just in his PJ's but just his white thread born boxer shorts, wife beater T-shirt, black sock and dress shoes! It would have better to know that he had a few too many Gin Rickeys but unfortunatley that was not the case. After that, I needed several Gin Rickeys for myself. Wishing you a Happy 4th of July
Looks super refreshing! I think gin tastes like Christmas Trees though lol
Hi Terry, sorry about that craving thing. ;-) These really are an enticing looking drink. A lot of drinks call for the hollowed out lime shell, and although I've never thought of it, I'll bet you're right - it's easier for the bartender. Cutting lime slices is a bit fiddly. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bam, that's a disturbing image you just painted! What a sight! If you like G&Ts you should give this a try. You might miss the tonic flavor, but the subtle combo of lime and gin is terrific. Happy 4th to you, and thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalie, this really is refreshing! Some gin does have a rather strong taste, I know. If you're inclined to try gin, I suggest Plymouth - its smooth flavor has converted a lot of former gin haters I know. Thanks for the comment.
Nothing like a gin cocktail in the heat of the summer! Love the pictures :)
Air conditioning in a glass? Oh man, that's exactly what I need. It's been 95+ here all week. Sweltering.
Such a refreshing and delicious looking cocktail :D
You are king!
A/C in a glass? Count me in! Your drink recipes are always mouthwatering. Have a great holiday weekend John!
Hi Alyssa, gin can be so refreshing, can't it? Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Hi Carolyn, 95+? That must be pretty rare for you! You need two of these! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Uru, this really is exceptionally refreshing - excellent stuff! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Yudith, it really is a cooling, soothing drink. ;-) I hope you have a great holiday, too, and thanks for commenting.
SOoooooooooooooooo cool ... it looks so good you can just take it off the post ... the Ricky is a must try .
How in the world you make cocktails look like artwork (every time) is a mystery to me. This one looks so refreshing!
Hi Nee, I'd definitely suggest trying this drink - quite delish, very refreshing. Perfect for a picnic, I'd say! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Chris, it really is refreshing - well worth drinking. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Nothing like a sip of “air conditioning in a glass” with a side of history, John. Now I feel like it's time to read the Great Gatsby, again...
There has been much debate over the naming of the drink. I remember reading once that the drink was named after the glass it was served in which was called a rickey glass, much like a champagne flute. I even have a recipe for a Grape Juice Rickey from 1848. I of course would much prefer this tall lean thirst quencher.
Thank you so much for sharing, John...Safe & Happy Independence Day to you and the Mrs. Cheers!
Hi Louise, I've read about the glass contributing to the name, although I certainly didn't know it might date back to 1848! Drink history is so, so fascinating, isn't it? And elusive! Happy 4th to you, and thanks for the comment.
What a great write up! I absolutely love gin. I love classic cocktails as well. The best ones for me are usually the ones with very little ingredients but somehow come together and taste smooth. I'm making this one tonight!
Hi Chris, this is a nice, smooth cocktail with a very refreshing taste - an easy sipper. Hope you enjoy, and thanks for the comment.
I think it's your patriotic duty to drink it all year round - winter or summer. I am glad it no longer contains whiskey. Why contaminate good gin?
Hi Suzanne, it's refreshing enough one could drink it all year round! Although in winter I tend to like something with a bit more heft to it. Thanks for the comment.
Loved this post and I'm still dressed and not in my pajamas. Love that Rickey was a lobbyist and a poker player. Seems fitting, huh? Not much has changed! And I love gin and tonics so this is a good change. But most of all? Love these photos!! My colors-green and pink. And full of polka dots of limes. Perfect. And did you like the new Gatsby? Just curious.
I love air conditioning in a glass ! Such an elegant looking cocktail too.
Hi Abbe, haven't seen the new Gatsby yet - we're Netflix folks. Some of the movie versions have been good, but nothing touches the book - it's superb. This is a nice change from a G&T - not as much flavor as the tonic, but just cool, smooth, and refreshing. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Maureen, isn't that a great tag line? So descriptive - and true! Thanks for the comment.
I love lime in my cocktail and this sounds so refreshing! Enjoy your 4th John!
I'm loving this cocktail! It certainly sounds zingy and refreshing. Bookmarking for when the sunshine decides to return to Australia
Dude this is stunning. Every time I stop by I pass out from looking at your gorgeous pics. And this drink, wowsers. My grand-dad used to love a good rickey.
I remember these being in The Great Gatsby. I don't think I've ever been to a party in my PJs and I know for certain I've never removed my clothes and swanned around naked! But on a hot day I really would love one of these drinks. It looks very party-like and I love your first image. Enjoy the heat - I'm sitting beside a roaring fire! xx
Hi Anne, lime is such a great ingredient in cocktails - one of my faves. I hope you have a great 4th, and thanks for the comment.
Hi Amanda, this is not a great winter drink, IMO, so I think you're right to wait until it gets quite a bit warmer. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kim, skip the booze and this is one you can drink! Do add more lime, though, and you'll probably need some sugar. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Hi Charlie, we'll be sitting by roaring fires all too soon, while you're sipping gin rickeys (though probably not in your PJs!). When it gets chilly a sidecar is hard to beat, IMO. Thanks for the comment.
I'm sick 'n tired of being mesmerized with your beverage-creativity ! Don't you get tired of making all those super cool drinks? Aren't you tired of producing those dazzling drink-shots?!
I have never been much of a fan of gin so I would love to try the original version with whiskey/bourbon. You post so many great cocktail recipes and I love learning the stories behind them.
Hi Suborna, ;-) My lot is tough, I know, but someone has to do it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Laura, the bourbon version has a bit more flavor, and although not quite as refreshing as the gin version, still tastes mighty good (and drinks as well in chilly weather as in hot). Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Stunning photo! You have a knack with the cocktail shots...they're so hard to do! And this gin rickey sounds perfect. A G & T would knock me on my keester, but this is more my style with the added club soda :)
Hi Liz, it's a great drink! And it's actually about the same amount of booze as a G&T, so you might want to cut back on the quantity of gin just a tad (to maybe an ounce and a half - the drink will still taste yummy). Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
I enjoyed the post, John, as I always do when you share your mixology knowledge. It's a guaranteed good read, even when it involves a liquor that is no friend of mine, like today's gin. That's OK because the quality of the post easily makes up for it. Besides, if I ever buy a bottle of gin, I'll know how to mix a Gin Rickey if someone asks.
Thanks for researching and publishing today's post.
Hi John, you can always make the whiskey version. ;-) There are so many great drinks out there, I enjoy talking about some that not everyone knows about. And drink history is fun, isn't it? So much to learn! Thanks for your kind words, and comment.
I'm telling you again -- you need to shoot for magazines. this is just too beautiful to sip. I'd still do it though :D
A very elegant look in the wine glass. Use to be a big gin fan, but haven't really had a gin drink in quite a while. This one does look very refreshing. A friend of mine served me something similar but with vodka and I don't think it had more than a little squeeze of lime. Bought a bottle of gin for the holiday weekend but haven't opened it yet. Must be time. :) Hope you have a marvelous Fourth!
Hi Kiran, you'd definitely want to sip this one! Too refreshing - and good! - to resist. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Hi MJ, it's a great looking drink, isn't it? You could make this with vodka, but it'd but a rather bland drink, IMO - the flavor of the gin really does add quite a bit. It might indeed be time to open that bottle! And so many different possibilities - this drink, a Tom Collins, a Gimlet ... choices, choices, choices! Thanks for the comment.
Lovely cocktail. Beautiful clicks too!
Hi Asmita, it really is refreshing and tasty - perfect for hot weather. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
I just got a huge bottle of gin to make yuzu gin and tonic. :) You bet I'll be making this gin Rickey cocktail just as often. ;)
Hi Amy, this is a really refreshing drink, so when you're tired of yuzu G&Ts, this will do doubt hit the spot. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Such a beautiful, refreshing cocktail, John! We've had temperatures hovering around 100 degrees this week, so I'm ready for one of these. Hope you're enjoying a wonderful July 4th weekend!
Hi Hannah, with temperatures around 100, you definitely need some air conditioning in a glass! ;-) We're having a great long weekend, and hope you having the same. Thanks for the comment.
I absolutely love your photos and story John! It really is air conditioning in a glass, I get chills just looking at it! I know an alcohol free won't be quite the same thing but I will try it anyway!
This gin cocktail looks refreshing and perfect for the hot days of summer !
Hi Nazneen, this is an incredibly refreshing drink! The alcohol does add a dimension that the mocktail doesn't have, but the mocktail version of this is quite good, and in fact I sometimes mix one that way when I don't feel like having a cocktail. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sketched Chef, it really is extremely refreshing! And great flavor, too. Thanks for the comment.
That is a good story and information. I have not read the book and I am more inclined to read it instead of seeing the movie. Because the movie will probably ruin it for me.
This gin looks like an AC we need in SC, though! It went on mildly in June and bam! In July all of a sudden, it is so hot and humid.
Now that I am back to the world of living, I can enjoy myself with a glass of this. Have been making your mojitos lately so lots of lime here :)
Hi Ilke, this really is a refreshing drink! Doesn't have quite the flavor punch of the mojito, but is smooth and soothing. I'd definitely read Gatsby before seeing the movie. The book is quite short, and you can probably read it in 2 or 3 hours (I'm a pretty fast reader, though, so maybe I overstate the case). Thanks for the comment.
I could almost feel how soothing this cocktail is... thirst quencher with a kick i would say. I also love the way you sliced your lime so thinly and so perfectly done.. also how it's beautifully arranged. Happy weekend!
Hi Malou, it's a wonderful drink - so nice for July in St. Louis! I hope you have a great weekend, too, and thanks for the comment.
I do not need air conditioner but I sure can have this drink...looks so refreshing. I love cocktails made with gin.
Hope you are having a great weekend John :)
Hi Juliana, this is such a smooth and refreshing cocktail! A nice, slow sipper - perfect for summer. Thanks for the comment.
You got my husband Chris making these now. ;) Thanks for the recipe John!
Hi Anne, ;-) Enjoy! These are one of my favorite hot weather cocktail - refreshing and light. Thanks for the comment.
Sounds so refreshing. I like the Gin and the lime, a great combination.
Hi Dawn, gin and lime is really an exquisite combo! So great together. Thanks for the comment.
I will have to go back and look for GRs in GG. I have read that book at least a dozen times (even documenting the booziness of it) and I missed that. Very appropriate summer drink!
Hi Debra, it's in chapter 7. And you're right that's a pretty boozy book! But a great one. Thanks for the comment.
Oh my! Looks so refreshing! I like gin and lime combination. How do you take beautiful shot like these? I really want to learn beverage photography from you! ;)
Hi Nami, I am thinking about your idea of doing a tutorial - maybe in the fall. Basically just light from behind, but you need to add flags to control reflections, and often reflectors to add secondary light. Thanks for your kind words, and comment.
Hi John, great posting. You are very professional in cocktail drinks. :))
So far all your cocktails drink look awesome and amazing beautiful pictures.
I don't mind to have a glass of this gin rickey, look so inviting. :)
Hi Amelia, this is a wonderful drink! Exceptionally refreshing. Thanks for your kind words, and comment.
Oh I need to make this for my dad when I go home to Michigan this month. He loves tonic water after a long day out in the sun working. This drink has a fun name, and really sounds refreshing! Beautiful, Take care, Terra
Hi Terra, this is really a nice, mild refreshing drink. Very soothing and cooling - perfect for relaxing after being out in the sun. Thanks for the comment.
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