Drinking with Southern Efficiency

“Southern efficiency and Northern charm…”

That’s how President Kennedy once described life in Washington, D.C. But when you’re in the dog days of summer, southern efficiency sounds like just the right speed.

It’s also the name of a fantastic place in the District to escape the heat – a small whiskey bar in Shaw. It’s part of a trio of bars fashioned out of restored row houses on 7th Street by D.C. writer and cocktail guru Derek Brown.

Southern Efficiency - Facade

Yesterday I went to the first in a series of whiskey classes he’s teaching at Southern Efficiency.

Brown knows that while Washingtonians drink more per capita than any other city in the U.S., they also take their drinking seriously.

The class was a great concoction of local D.C. history and cocktail lore, served up in three glasses, and with a side of delicious Southern snacks thrown in for good measure.

The first was a bourbon Rickey, named after 19th Century power lobbyist Colonel Joe Rickey. I’ve written about the Rickey before, which was designated as D.C.’s official drink in 2011, after some lobbying of their own by Brown and local author Garrett Peck.

Derek Brown behind the bar, well stocked with Southern bourbons and whiskeys.
Derek Brown behind the bar, well stocked with Southern bourbons and whiskeys.

Incidentally, D.C. is one of two cities to have an official drink – the other is New Orleans, with its famed Sazerac.

July is officially Rickey Month in Washington, when you can sample creative variations on this simple drink – which usually just combines bourbon or gin, lime, and soda water. And on August 3, there’s even a Rickey contest at local bar Jack Rose to crown this year’s stand-out. (I went last year, and wholeheartedly recommend it!)

One bit of new trivia I learned this time around – Col. Rickey wasn’t really a fan of the drink his bartender created for him at D.C.’s original dive bar, Shoomaker’s. He preferred his regular morning fortification of bourbon and water. But Rickey seemed to have recommended the recipe far and wide, perhaps realizing that the eponymous cocktail was his ticket to enduring fame.

Our second drink was the John Collins, which inspired its better known cousin, the gin-based Tom Collins. The John Collins is a refreshing mix of rye whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and mineral water – identical to the Tom Collins except for its choice of spirit. (Not to confuse matters, but the John Collins was originally made with gin.)

And the third drink was another that originated as a morning libation, this time as the

Perhaps it was the juleps that made Henry Clay the "Great Compromiser."
Perhaps it was the juleps that made Henry Clay the “Great Compromiser.”

breakfast of colonial Virginians – the Mint Julep. Legend has it that Henry Clay (who much like the julep, was a transplant from Virginia to Kentucky) introduced the julep to thirsty Washingtonians at the bar of the Willard Hotel.

As Brown says, the julep is designed for porch drinking, because its main ingredients – bourbon, mint, simple syrup, and crushed ice – combine as they melt, and provide a different taste from beginning to end.

Derek Brown’s bar serves so many in the summer time that they devised a way to keep it on tap.

Now that sounds like southern efficiency.

Combined, these three drinks give you a sampling of early Americans’ favorite libations, which were served throughout Washington’s historic bars.

See below for recipes:

Bourbon Rickey - Southern Efficiency


Col. Joe Rickey

– 1.5-2 oz of bourbon
– Juice of half lime
– 3-4 oz of mineral water (best with Apollinaris) or club soda.

Shake bourbon and lime juice over ice, strain into a glass over fresh ice, drop lime shell in, and top off with water.


John Collins


John Collins

– 1.5 oz rye whiskey
– 3/4 oz lemon juice
– 3/4 oz of simple syrup

Shake gently over ice, strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice, top off with club soda, and garnish with a flag of an orange slice and brandied cherry.


Mint Julep


Mint Julep

– 2 oz of bourbon
– 1/2 oz of simple syrup
– 5 sprigs of mint

Gently muddle mint in a julep glass, add bourbon and simple syrup, fill glass with crushed ice, garnish with sprigs of mint and powdered sugar.

2 thoughts on “Drinking with Southern Efficiency

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