I’ve lately become enamored with a non-alcoholic beverage — which, let’s face it, is not something that happens to me very often. But on hot July afternoons in my unairconditioned office, I find myself facing a wall of futility that would only be worsened by the sedative effects of alcohol. (Despite the tempting name, a corpse reviver doesn’t quite do the trick when there are still hours of work to be done.) And so I turn to my new best friend: the lime rickey.
I work in the office of the New York City restaurant Prune, where at the suggestion of one of our servers, Anna, I had my first lime rickey a few weeks ago. I’m sure Anna and the rest of the staff have been annoyed with me ever since: now nearly every day when I hit that wall, I emerge from the office into the main restaurant in search of refreshment, and all I want is a lime rickey.
Like a well-made mojito, the lime rickey is a labor-intensive drink. There’s muddling and shaking for each serving; ten ordered at once during summer’s Friday lunch rush could easily bring an inexperienced bartender down. But for me, all that work makes the lime rickey that much more special, and because it’s labor intensive, I’ve learned to make it myself so that I’m not constantly distracting coworkers from their end-of-lunch shift duties just so I can get my afternoon fix.
The ingredients for Prune’s rickey are simple: lime, sugar, soda, and ice. But as I’ve learned during my hunt for information about the drink (it’s a variation on the rickey cocktail that became popular during prohibition) and experimenting with various ingredients on hand, I’ve realized that tiny variations like adding fruits, changing sweeteners, and working with different shapes of ice can elevate, intensify, and even entirely transform the drink.
In India, where the drink is simply called “lime soda” and usually served without ice, it’s ordered one of three ways: sweet, salty, or a combo of salty-sweet. Just like it sounds, the only change is swapping out a small amount of salt for the sugar or using salt and sugar in combination. The salt adds a wonderful flavor element and a bit of theater, too: when soda is added to the salted lime juice, the effervescence is amplified, causing the fizz to rise rapidly in the glass and tickle the drinker’s nose until the glass is completely drained.
Other variations I’ve encountered include rimming the glass with various seasonings — a mixture of celery salt and cumin, for example — or, my favorite twist, dosing the mixture with a couple ounces of gin.