Few cocktails have risen to the same cultural provenance as that of the Gin Rickey. A simple combination of gin, soda water, and lime, I”ll be the first to admit that with it’s token effervescence and bright citrus taste, the Gin Rickey makes for real easy drinking. Although F. Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed it with such aplomb and regularity that close confidantes of the mythologized writer would refer to his poison of choice as the ‘Gin Fitzy,’ F. Scott absolutely cannot be credited with the drink’s inception– that accolade belonged to Missouri lobbyist Joe Rickey alone.
A self-appraised ‘gentleman gambler’ and respected statesmen, the only thing Colonel Joseph Kyle Rickey enjoyed more than a good game of poker and a day at the races was a stiff drink — preferably one made with Kentucky barrel-aged bourbon. Cut to scene — Interior. Day. Shoomaker’s Bar. Washington D.C. 1873. Here is where Col. Rickey sits in front of bartender George A. Williamson and asks for his “Mornin’s Morning” — a daily dose of Bourbon poured over lump ice and topped with Apollinaris mineral water. Williamson must have given him something of a stern look — perhaps because he knew the Colonel to be unwisely overindulging. And so in spite, he tersely fixes him a drink. The Colonel’s abrasive and asked-for bourbon is replaced with odorless, clear Gin and on the rim of the glass a clean-cut lime wedge is placed. For health. The highball is slid across the bar and voila — the Gin Rickey is born, much to the chagrin of our lush Colonel, whose political klout is quickly eclipsed by a low-key level of floozy claim-to-fame.
There is tonic water, and then there is tonic. The real deal bears little resemblance to the Schweppes soda that is siphoned into a Solo cup from most bar backs. Really, what makes a tonic a true tonic is the inclusion of quinine, an alkaloid naturally derived from the bark of the Cinchona Tree. Native to western South America, hardy bark from the Cinchona tree has long been harvested for it’s medicinal properties. First introduced to Western medicine and homepathy by Jesuit missionaries, soda water with quinine (and a hearty slosh of Gin) was used in the era of British colonialism as a downright suitable remedy for soldiers figting early symptoms of Malaria.
In very high doses, quininie can in fact be used as both an anti-inflammatory agent, as well as a fever-reducer and muscle relaxant.
Although no longer considered an appropriate anti-malarial treatment, gin + tonic based cocktails do remain both 1.) simple to prepare, 2.) delicious to consume, and 3.) endlessly adaptable.
This is where artisan tonic syrups from Blue Henn can be appropriately introduced. Officially launched not even three months ago, Blue Henn is the brainchild of Julia Brosz and Kari Madore, two gals who first met at the UofM while studying interior design. The two quickly bonded over their love of artisan cocktails and a shared passion for all manner of well-made ephemera. Crafted with care here in Minnesota, Blue Henn tonic syrup is made with pure cane sugar, aromatic lavender, and natural citrus oils. Rounded out with a sticky-sweet texture and an herbal, medicinal scent, the syrup’s sap-like viscosity can be attributed to the use of naturally-harvested and slowly-steeped Cinchona bark. This slow and natural quinine-extraction process gives the tonic it’s signature green-herbal taste that is nothing if not sophisticated. Packaged in a handsome amber bottle, brew date and batch number proudly stamped on the back, the result is a product similar to your favorite small-batch kombucha or artisan perfume.
In short, I’ve become a quick and sudden fan. There’s an element of southern charm to the whole thing, despite theirs being a company distinctly rooted in the north country. Hats off to Julia and Kari, whose syrups have me enjoying my own version of a Gin Rickey — this time with ginger soda in addition to the usual carbonated water — with stunning regularity.
A mix between medicinal and sweet, the recipe below is one I concocted after visiting their pop-up. Using Few Spirits Gin and Spruce Soda Co. Ginger Beer, it’s a combination both comforting and unexpected.
Libby’s Gin n’ Ginger Rickey
1 oz Blue Henn Tonic Syrup
2 oz Spruce Soda Co Ginger Soda
2 oz Few Barrel Gin
3.5 oz Club Soda
Pour over ice. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon. Garnish with lemon wedge if the vibe feels right. Imbibe with pride.