Drinks for the racing crowd


May 17, 2006|By ROB KASPER

In the interest of mixology, I drank the Triple Crown field: the Mint Julep, the Black-Eyed Susan and the Belmont Breeze. These are the official cocktails of each of the tracks that play host to horse racing's big three contests -- the Kentucky Derby won by Barbaro two weeks ago in Louisville, the Preakness Stakes to run Saturday at Pimlico and the Belmont Stakes slated for June 10 in New York.

I started off by looking over the recipes on a Web site (horseracing.about.com). Then I handicapped the entrants.

The julep looked like a tested performer, the pick of traditionalists who like their bourbon straightforward and their mint muddled. The Black-Eyed Susan appeared to be the frisky favorite of fruit-juice lovers, a concoction that tasted like it should be good for you but packed a sneaky alcoholic wallop.

The Belmont Breeze, a relative newcomer, had an impressive pedigree -- it hailed from the bar of New York mixologist Dale DeGroff -- but it was carrying a lot of ingredients. It picked up fashion points for the best-looking "hat" or garnish, sporting a strawberry, a lemon slice and a mint sprig.

Next I rang up Anistatia Miller, who is a "spirits specialist." This, I figured, is the equivalent in the cocktail world of being a racetrack tout.

Miller along with her husband, Jared Brown, has written Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the American Martini and runs a blog on cocktails at martiniplace.com.

Miller had strong views on how to make a good drink. The key, said Miller, is simplicity. "A cold glass and fresh ingredients" are the crucial components, she said, adding, "You don't want to cloud the issue."

With these principles in mind, Miller analyzed the Triple Crown cocktails for me. The performance of the Black-Eyed Susan would improve, she said, if fresh-squeezed orange juice were used. "That would brighten it up," she said.

She was familiar with the Belmont Breeze, the cocktail that DeGroff, author of The Craft of the Cocktail, created in 1998 to replace the White Carnation as the official drink of the Belmont.

"On a summer afternoon, it is a nice drink to enjoy at the track," she said. But to her mind, the large number of nonalcoholic ingredients in the Breeze "make it more of a punch than a cocktail." The drink's triple garnishment of strawberry, lemon slice and a sprig of mint come close, she said, to making the drink look like a "salad in a glass."

Of the three beverages, the Mint Julep was her favorite. "I like the taste of bourbon. It is a remarkable, truly American spirit," Miller said. When a julep is made with good bourbon, shaved ice, a touch of sugar and an artfully placed sprig of mint, the vanilla and maple flavors of the bourbon bloom, she said. Moreover, Miller said, she loves the julep lore, all the stories that accompany its long history.

I found myself agreeing with Miller. On the first Saturday in May, as the horses paraded to the post at Churchill Downs, I sampled the Triple Crown cocktails. The Black-Eyed Susan was the fastest out of the gate, the easiest to mix. With so many ingredients the Belmont Breeze was slow to get going, but once all the parts were in place, it had a surprisingly smooth finish. But the Mint Julep, laden with aromatic bourbon and steeped in nostalgia, tugged at my heart and pleased my palate. After one, I was weeping for my old Kentucky home.


Black-Eyed Susan

Makes 1

1 part (1 ounce) Cointreau

1 part (1 ounce) dark rum

1 part (1 ounce) vodka

1 1/2 ounces orange juice

1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice

lime for garnish

Fill a highball glass with shaved ice; add liquors first, then top off with equal parts orange and pineapple juice. Stir and garnish with a lime.

Belmont Breeze

Makes 1

1 1/2 ounces Jack Daniel's or blended whiskey

3/4 ounce Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

3/4 ounce simple syrup (see recipe)

1 1/2 ounces fresh orange juice

1 1/2 ounces cranberry juice

1 ounce club soda

1 ounce 7UP

fresh strawberry, mint sprig, lemon wedge for garnish

Shake first 6 ingredients, with ice, in a glass. Then top with club soda and 7UP. Garnish with fresh strawberry, mint sprig and lemon wedge.

Mint Julep

Makes 1

2 sprigs of mint (divided use)

2 ounces simple syrup (see recipe)

2 ounces Kentucky bourbon

Muddle 1 sprig of mint in the bottom of a mixing glass with simple syrup. Add the bourbon and strain into a highball glass or julep cup filled with crushed ice. Swirl with a spoon until the outside of the glass frosts. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Simple Syrup

Makes 8 servings

1 cup water

2 cups sugar

In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat; add the sugar. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool completely before using. Store in a tightly capped glass jar in refrigerator.

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