Preakness cocktails with a twist

So long, Black-Eyed Susan. These bartenders celebrate this weekend's race with a fresh new approach

May 13, 2011|By Sam Sessa, The Baltimore Sun

A shot of vodka, a shot of whiskey, sweet-and-sour mix, a couple of ounces of orange juice, and a cherry and an orange slice to top it off.

You must recognize it. The Black-eyed Susan has been the Preakness Stakes' official cocktail since time immemorial; at least since the '50s, estimates Pimlico historian Joe Kelly.

The drink has not stayed stale. Its creators have reinvented it several over the years. The recipe above is the current mix: 3/4 oz. 42 Below Vodka, 11/4 -ounce Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, 3-oz. sweet-and-sour mix, 2 oz. orange juice, and to garnish, an orange slice, cherry and stirrer.

But for as long as it's been around, people have complained about dear old Susan. It's "equal parts of rum, vodka, fruit juice and bad judgment," reporter Rob Kasper likes to say. Back in 1985, he ran a contest to replace it with something else.

And yet the Black-Eyed Susan's reign continues unabated. Well, it's time for a coup.

In a long-shot appeal to the Maryland Jockey Club to replace a cocktail that's run one too many laps, we asked five of Baltimore's best mixologists and bartenders to come up with a new official Preakness drink. Their instructions were simple: Come up with a cocktail that's refreshing in warm weather, simple to make and inspired by the historic race.

It's not like there isn't precedent. The White Carnation had been the official cocktail of the Belmont Stakes for years, until master mixologist Dale DeGroff suggested a change to his version of whiskey punch, which he called the Belmont Breeze. It's now been the race's drink of choice for 13 years.

Here's hoping Preakness will follow suit.

B&O American Brasserie

The Black-Eyed Susan was always meant to be a simple drink, something invigorating but easy to drink while watching the race. But that's precisely its problem, says B&O American Brasserie's Brendan Dorr.

"It's a nothing drink," he says.

It consists of too-simple ingredients. And, he says, "it came at a time when quality ingredients were less available."

Now, bartenders have better resources. His recipe suggests a respect for the original recipe, but improves upon it with more gourmet, and natch, pricier, ingredients. It is citrusy and heavy on the rum.

Dorr started out working off the original recipe, which called for light rum, but decided to switch to Flor de Cana, a classic dark rum. He mixes that with a liqueur flavored with cherries — Luxardo Maraschino, which can start at a little over $25 a bottle.

To counter the sweetness, he drops two dashes of orange bitters, then slowly drips aromatic agave nectar into the mixing glass. He adds orange juice, as in a classic Susan, and finishes it off with both grapefruit and lime juice. It is served in a highball glass with ice.

"It exudes summertime," he says. "It's easy that anyone can make it, but it has a little something extra."

Cost: $9.

B&O American Brasserie is at 2 N. Charles St. Call 443-692-6172 or

Bad Decisions

Fells Points' Bad Decisions is known for its classic cocktails. Owner and bartender John Reusing prefers old-timey ingredients and drinks. At his bar, the Black-Eyed Susan is not just served in May.

"I actually sell it here year-round," he says.

He says the cocktail is one for lovers of sweet drinks, the same kind of people who appreciate whiskey sours.

His problem with the traditional cocktail is the way it's usually served at the tracks, with low-end whiskey and orange and pineapple juice from the guns.

For his recipe, he kept a similar taste profile to the original recipe, and the ingredients local, top-shelf, and strong. "It's an up drink," he says. "A little stronger than the classic."

The Sweet Sassy Susan might be something to drink at home unless you want to become this year's rowdiest infield attendee.

Reusing starts with a Virginia rye, Catoctin Creek, and follows up with a sweet aperitif, Cointreau, though any triple sec is also a good option.

To give the recipe a distinct aroma, he adds a hint of orange-blossom water, which used to be a cocktail staple decades ago, but is now only available in ethnic, mainly Middle Eastern, markets.

Those ingredients are mixed with lemon bitters to add to the citrusy flavor profile, and a homemade sweet-and-sour mix.

He suggests stirring instead shaking for a better, cleaner presentation. At Bad Decisions, he would top it off with a cherry that's been soaking in whiskey for a year. Because Reusing's is a top-heavy cocktail, he recommends inviting friends over.

"You could whip up a batch and grab people," he says. "You could definitely make that in a big pitcher and pour for serving."

Cost: $8

Bad Decisions is at 1928 Fleet St.. Call 410-979-5161 or go to

Holy Frijoles

When Holy Frijoles bartender and manager Aylen Beazley-Maquehue was tasked with creating a new Preakness cocktail, she looked to the Black-Eyed Susan for inspiration.

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