A hot, humid, rainy evening. An Indonesian evening, without the benefit of actually being in Indonesia. I was rushing from the Silver Spring metro, pushing my cyborg heart to the limit in a race to get to Jackie’s Sidebar in a break between Fringe shows. I arrived drenched. If ever I needed “air-conditioning in a glass,” otherwise known as the Rickey, it was then.
I’d never been to Sidebar, and I felt a bit ashamed of that as I spilled into its cool, dark interior. Sidebar has a quirky, kitschy feel with black walls, chandeliers, and mismatched furniture. Its charm is elevated by the presence of bartender Jung-Ah Park, whose entry in the Rickey Month Contest I was there to sample. When I saw the name on the chalkboard – Pineapple Cardamom Gin Rickey – I knew it would be perfect for that monsoon night.
All month long, our local mixology talent stir up their versions of the deceptively simple cocktail known as the Rickey, for the DC Craft Bartenders Guild contest culminating on August 4th at Jack Rose. A few years ago I attended a seminar about its history taught by Derek Brown, who was instrumental in getting the Rickey its “DC’s native cocktail” status. It’s remained one of my favorite drinks ever since: gin or bourbon, lime, soda water, ice.
Heading to Maryland for DC’s native cocktail? Blasphemy, right? Wrong. Park’s riff on the classic was instantly reviving. Maybe that’s because cardamom contains linalool and linalyl acetate, compounds which reduce stress (as I recently learned from Amy Stewart’s invaluable book, The Drunken Botanist). The cardamom in Park’s Rickey has been toasted, simmered, pureed, boiled, cooled, and strained. It’s gone through quite a journey to get to your palate, and it’s married perfectly with gin, fresh pineapple juice, lime juice, and soda water. There’s a refreshing clarity to the drink. It’s just a little tart, not sweet, and very tropical. Park experimented with using bourbon instead of gin at first, but she decided that gin “behaves better” with cardamom. It truly does: cardamom is a common ingredient in gin, as well as lavender and citrus peel which also contain those same stress-relieving compounds.
By the time I finished, I was as cool as can be. Park’s Rickey is a delightful homage to the classic. Plus she’s super amazing. Now there’s a very good reason to visit Silver Spring.