After the Civil War, a former Confederate Army officer named Colonel Joe Rickey moved to Washington, D.C., to become a lobbyist. He took to frequenting a now-defunct D.C. bar called Shoomaker’s that was popular with lobbyists and newspaper men. One day, his bartender, George Williamson, switched up Rickey’s “mornin’s morning” by adding a splash of citrus to his customary concoction of bourbon, ice, and sparkling water. The simple mixture became a hit at Shoomaker’s, and patrons began asking for “those drinks that Rickey drinks,” as the Colonel told an Ohio newspaper in 1900. The “Joe Rickey” turned into the “Bourbon Rickey,” which was eventually surpassed by the “Gin Rickey,” which became a global classic in the early 20th Century.
But there are two ironic footnotes to the Rickey story—first, that gin overtook his preferred American bourbon in the cocktail, and second, that Rickey lived the rest of his days chagrined that the cocktail was the most famous thing about him, completely overshadowing his political career. “Only a few years ago,” he told the Saint Paul Globe in 1900, “I was Colonel Rickey, of Missouri, the friend of senators, judges, and statesmen and something of an authority on political matters…. But am I ever spoken of for those reasons? … No, I am known to fame as the author of the ‘rickey,’ and I have to be satisfied with that.” He hoped “devoutly” that the drink would fall out of fashion and restore him to his “former fame.” No such luck.