As the mint julep is to the Kentucky Derby, the Black-Eyed Susan is to the Preakness. Thousands will be served at Pimlico on Saturday, but here’s the thing: Unlike the mint julep — which at its heart is simply bourbon or rye, mint and simple syrup — the Black-Eyed Susan recipe has roamed all over the place like a horse that has thrown its jockey.
“The traditional version, printed in the 1985 edition of The Junior League of Baltimore cookbook ‘Hunt to Harbor,’ called for vodka, rum and triple sec, mixed with orange and pineapple juices,” the Baltimore Sun’s Rob Kasper wrote in 2010. “Later versions called for a shot of peach schnapps. Pineapple juice came and went as a favored mixer. Grapefruit juice had a short run. Orange juice has been a constant, but some recipes call for sizeable dose, and others suggest a simple ‘splash.’ ”
The current official Preakness recipe calls for vodka, bourbon, orange juice and (ugh) sour mix, garnished with an orange and a cherry. It’s fine for what it is — an easy-drinking cocktail that can be made quickly (or made in advance) to serve thousands of thirsty fans — but it’s far from infallible. For one, the sour mix has to go. It’s just an unnecessary shortcut. You can do better. For another, by using vodka, you’re simply adding alcohol for the sake of adding alcohol. It’s certainly not about making the drink taste better.
To fix this, I once again turned to David Solmonson, co-author of “The 12 Bottle Bar” and the accompanying cocktail blog of the same name. You were all drinking his mint julep recipe two weeks ago during the Kentucky Derby (right?,) so why not go back to what works for the Preakness?
“My issue with the official recipe(s) is the lack of heritage,” Solmonson told me. “The reason the mint julep works [for the Kentucky Derby] is that it’s a traditional drink playing to the heritage of Kentucky whiskey-making. The Preakness needs a drink that celebrates the local region and the event. We tried to capture those things.
“Our goal was to embrace not only the more regular ingredients of the various recipes but also to include something traditionally ‘Maryland’ — rye whiskey — to create a layered yet extremely approachable tropical-style drink,” Salmonson said, adding that the Old Line State was known for its rye production.
The 12 Bottle Bar Black-Eyed Susan
2 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce white rum
1 ounce orange juice
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce rich simple syrup*
1 teaspoon orange liqueur
1/2 ounce black rum, to float
Add all ingredients except for black rum to a glass and stir to combine. Fill a Collins or other tall glass with crushed ice. Add the mixed drink to the glass with ice. Top with the float of black rum. Garnish as desired and serve with a straw.
*To make rich simple syrup, combine two parts sugar and one part water in a pot. Set heat to medium-low and stir until sugar dissolves. Chill before using.