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The upstairs room at Bourbon in Adams Morgan was packed Monday night with bartenders, mixologists, restaurateurs, journalists, and even the occasional priest. They were all there to knock back a cocktail or two and find out who makes the best Rickey in the region. It was the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild‘s annual celebration of the would-be official cocktail of D.C.

The judges picked Kaarin’s Kocktail, a concoction put together by PX‘s Clinton Terry, as the overall winner.  It’s a “Rickey” without a squirt of lime: It includes Woodford bourbon, lemon, lemon bitters, opal basil, and spicy ginger ale. Second place went to the Tabard Inn‘s Chantal Tseng, who put together the Gunslinger Rickey, which includes Woodford bourbon, lime juice, San Pellegrino Chinotto, and smoked mezcal cherries.

The popular vote, based on a month of tastings at various bars and lounges, went to Cafe Atlantico‘s Jill Zimorski, who prepared the Fresa Rubia, a “Rickey” made with Hendrick’s gin, jicama-lime soda, strawberry water,  and strawberry. Someone in the crowd— a competitor for the title, actually — suggested to Y&H that Zimorski’s victory came via stuffing the ballot box.

Cut-throat stuff, this Rickey business. I decided that such a “controversial” event — accustations of ballot-box tampering! a non-Rickey Rickey winning the contest! — demanded some tough questions. Y&H took up the task this morning when I e-mailed Derek Brown, one of the fiercest campaigner’s for the Rickey’s rightful place in D.C. history. I was looking for answers!

Our “interview” is after the jump.

Y&H: I heard that the popular-vote winner may be tainted? (insert smiley emoticon here.) A little ballot box stuffing, perhaps? Has an international voting-rights committee been assembled to verify the results before a coup breaks out?

DB: We realized early on that the popular vote can be influenced by the amount of people who vote for you! The process was fair and we don’t expect any recounts, chads or the like unless an angry mob of voters storm the DCCBG offices, chanting and threatening violence. In which case we will do what we always do, according to the principles of our charter, which is defend ourselves through classic boxing techniques involving upright forearms and cocked fists. You know, fisticuffs. (Too bad there’s no classic boxer emoticon.)

Y&H: The winner in the judges’ category included ginger beer and basil, among other ingredients. How does this qualify as a Rickey? And do you think Col. Joe would have sat within 20 barstools of the winner?

DB: The further we delve into the drinking habits of Colonel Joe Rickey, the more we realize how he didn’t actually drink Rickeys. George Williamson and the fine bartenders at Shoomaker’s are responsible for the Rickey’s creation, really. Thank goodness, it’s a great drink. Colonel Joe preferred Bourbon & soda.

Believe me, I’m a purist among purists, and my feeling is that the drinks that came out of the contest are genuine descendants of the Rickey. They do, however, take on a life of their own just as the Dry Martini is the descendant of the Manhattan or the lobster burger is the descendant of the hamburger. That’s why the drinks get renamed and we don’t pass them off as the original. I hope folks understand that and, if not, tell them Tim Carmen.

So these drinks are not bastardizations of the classic Rickey, even if they skate on the edge of “Rickiness” (Rickocity?) Think of it this way, cocktails are much like common law in which precedents matter but are refined. Tom Bullock, one of the finest bartenders to have lived, made his Bliz’s Royal Rickey with Old Tom Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Raspberry Syrup and Ginger Ale. Is that a Rickey? I think so.

Y&H: As you are trying to educate Washingtoninans on their native drink, do you think awarding such a drink [as Kaarin’s Kocktail] confuses the issue on what exactly is a Rickey? I mean, ginger beer? Is this a dark ‘n’ stormy Rickey?

DB: Yes we are, but we are also open to its interpretation. The first drink we offered to anyone coming through the door [at Bourbon last night] was a classic gin or Bourbon Rickey. Then they could try the others. Education is only part of our aim. Having fun and showing how great our city’s bartenders are is another.

Y&H: What was your favorite Rickey of the evening and why?

DB: I can’t pick favorites. They were all amazing. For practical purposes, I kept shuttling around with a pint of Bourbon and soda. Of that, Joe Rickey would’ve been proud!

Photo by MetaGrrrl via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License