How to Be a Drink Historian



Finding credible information about cocktails is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks facing cocktail enthusiasts. Although many books exist and the Internet is peppered with cocktail blogs, no single source or authority has been able to produce a comprehensive history of every drink. Neither is this reasonable to do, considering the vast array of drinks.

Most of us just read David Wondrich, author of Imbibe! and drinks writer for Esquire magazine, and are done with it. He is the foremost researcher of cocktails by a mile. Then there are writers such as Eric Felten and Jason Wilson, and our own Wayne Curtis, who have distinguished themselves by thorough research and thoughtful writing. But even with a handful of writers and researchers dedicated to the task, a quick Google search for your favorite drink can bring up often contradictory and confusing information.

A few years ago, when I began researching the Rickey (Washington, D.C.'s native cocktail), I quickly found one of the reasons for these discrepancies. It turns out that history itself is replete with the same types of miscues and misinformation found on the Internet. So much that my idea of what a Rickey is, and what a Rickey was, are completely different after only a year of investigation.

As it turns out, Colonel Joe Rickey didn't like cocktails. The lime shell (the rind left over when the lime is squeezed) is essential to the drink, and without the shell it's called a Sheffield Rickey. Mineral water, not soda water, was used in the drink. It began with bourbon, not gin. The limes used were key limes and not Persian limes, and they were available at the old Center Market in Washington, D.C. The Rickey was created at Shoomakers (two O's), not the Willard.

The list goes on and on, and I'm sure with even more research the story will, predictably, change. I find this not just interesting but enlivening. It turns out that despite history being set, its investigation, much like the present, is forever unraveling with the addition of new information and perspectives. But I digress.

Sadly, the worst of the information I found about the Rickey was on Wikipedia. The claims were false and unsubstantiated. Instead of stomping my feet I decided to do something about it and wrote what I affectionately refer to as the "Rickipedia" article. It was posted last week and can be seen here. At the very least, this should clear up the confusion about one drink (for now, anyway).