Sales taking off for Pimlico drink



May 15, 2002|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A great horse race needs a drink worthy of the occasion, but for a lot of race fans, the Preakness' Black-Eyed Susan always seemed a bit slow out of the gate.

"It was like drinking locomotive water," grumbles one self-described "old man" as he recalls trying the old bourbon-based drink.

Things are looking up, though. Last year, Pimlico introduced a new, retooled version. Reviews have been good and sales are strong.

Brian Handleman, president of Maryland Turf Caterers Inc., says the new vodka-based recipe is more upscale and appeals to a new generation of drinkers who prefer clear spirits over darker liquors like bourbon or rye, the traditional choices for the Preakness drink.

The old Black-Eyed Susan combined liquor with lemon juice, orange juice and sugar, all shaken together and served over crushed ice.

It was, in effect, a bourbon sour. Or rye sour, as the case may be. Back in the days when Pikesville Rye and other local brands were readily available, plenty of Marylanders swore that rye was the only spirit worthy of the Preakness drink.

The bourbon-rye rivalry is an old one in Maryland, but bourbon seems to have won out in Black-Eyed Susans more often than rye.

These days, rye is hard to find and fewer people are drinking bourbon. But vodka drinks are all the rage, and the new Black-Eyed Susan unveiled at last year's Preakness seems to have hit the spot.

And no wonder. It's a jaunty, refreshing drink, with pineapple and orange juice leavening a combination of vodka, light rum and Cointreau.

Handleman says Pimlico expects to serve more than 20,000 Black-Eyed Susans on Preakness day. Each will come in a colorful souvenir glass listing all 126 previous winners of the middle jewel of racing's Triple Crown, with a question mark for 2002.

If you're not lucky enough to have Preakness tickets, you can stop by the racetrack before Saturday, purchase a glass at the gift shop and prepare your drink at home.

The new Black-Eyed Susan has spread to other bars around town, and Handleman says bartenders as far away as Florida and Maine have called to ask for the recipe.

For the most part, however, the Black-Eyed Susan remains a Pimlico drink. "It's popular for one or two weekends a year," says Michael Rambo, a bartender at the Polo Grille on University Parkway.

"I wouldn't classify it as a drinker's drink," he says. "It's a fruit-juice-based drink, and they can get a little cloying after a while."

They can also fool you into thinking you're drinking nothing stronger than citrus juice.

But for a visit to the track, or for wherever you are on Preakness day, a Black-Eyed Susan is a refreshing way to salute the horses and to toast a legendary race that has earned its place as one of Maryland's most treasured traditions.

Black-Eyed Susan

Serves 2

1 ounce vodka

1 ounce Mount Gay rum

1/2 ounce Cointreau

6 ounces orange juice

3 ounces pineapple juice

garnish: pineapple wedge, orange slice or cherry

Mix together and serve over crushed ice. Garnish with a wedge of pineapple, an orange slice or a cherry.

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