Preakness Drinks Exploration: A Night of Experimentation

Events / Travel

Intrigued by an ever-changing official cocktail for the second leg of the Triple Crown and a namesake drink that is not served, I decided to get a few friends together and do some test-driving.

The Black-Eyed Susan has gone through many incarnations and certainly has its detractors on the internet. Constantly tweaking something in the public eye will tend to create some sniping. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The cocktail called Preakness had two different spins as well, one essentially a variation on the Manhattan and the other with Scotch instead of Rye whiskey. I gathered the recipes and headed to my local watering hole for some mixology.

Three Black-Eyed Susans

One of the versions had to be the one being served at the race this year. The others I found repeated enough that they seemed to have some traction over others but I have no idea what year they might have been served.

We opted for middle of the road liquor, nothing from the well but not premium either.

The first came from and called for:

1 1/4 oz Kentucky Bourbon

3/4 oz Vodka

3 oz Sweet and sour mix

2 oz Orange juice

Garnish with an orange slice and cherry

During the creation of this drink our bartender was shaking her head and wondering what we were thinking. “This sounds disgusting,” she said. The first taste was universally reviled. It grew on two of us after a second sip but the consensus was that the sweetness and the strong oak, vanilla and char of the bourbon did not work well together. No harmony existed in these ingredients, it was more like each member of a band all playing loudly at once but not playing the same song.

The second was from and was adjusted a bit on volume but this is how the recipe reads:

3/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup pineapple juice

3 tablespoons vodka

2 tablespoons light rum

2 tablespoons orange liqueur (they recommend, and we used, Grand Marnier)

Garnishes: lime slices, fresh cherries (we used maraschino)

It smelled and tasted very much like a Screwdriver. The orange juice and the Grand Marnier made it very orangey. Part Screwdriver, part upgraded Fuzzy Navel, this was tasty enough but seemed much too derivative to be called something else. No one loved it, and since it seemed plagiarized we discounted it entirely. 

The third is the current official drink for this year’s Preakness:

1 1/2 oz Vodka (they specifically mention Finlandia)

1/2 oz St. Germain

2 oz Pineapple juice

1/4 oz lime juice

3/4 oz orange juice

Garnish with fresh orange slice

Good news for those heading to Pimlico this weekend, this was the best of the bunch. The pineapple really shines through and once some ice melted, the aromas and flavors of St. Germain (elderflower liqueur) began to emerge. We did not start a craze of any kind - no one ordered another of any of them - but it didn’t make the bartender cringe. The consensus was this drink was better than the other two. 

With about a third of each drink remaining, my curiosity got the better of me and I poured number three into the first experimental cocktail. My palate thought perhaps the aggressiveness of the Bourbon might be mitigated by the fruity sweetness of this year’s Black-Eyed Susan, which in turn needed a bit more complexity for my taste. It was still a slightly boring beverage but it made number one drinkable! The pineapple and Bourbon ended up playing pretty well together.

We took a short break for a beer and some hockey before venturing into the Preakness cocktail. had it listed with Blended Scotch Whiskey others listed Whiskey and somewhere I read a recommendation for Rye. The Rye seemed like a great idea so the plan was to make two following this recipe:

1 1/2 oz Blended Scotch Whisky (sub Rye for the other)

3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth

1/2 teaspoon Benedictine

dashes of bitters

Garnish with a twist of lemon

A hurdle appeared. Our bartender informed me they did not stock Benedictine. It was 8 p.m. on a Tuesday. We were watching game seven of the Rangers/Penguins series and that wouldn’t wrap up until 8:40 or so (Central Time). A break in the action arrived and I hustled down the street to another bar but they didn’t have any either. I went another two blocks to the closest fancy restaurant but they’re dark on Tuesdays.

I don’t like unfinished adventures, so right after the game we headed to a local grocery but they don’t carry Benedictine either. A drugstore had no liquor of any kind, weird in New Orleans, but there were three restaurants across the street. Divide and conquer! I struck out in mine but there was success in the next one.

Single shot of Benedictine in hand we headed back to the bar to mix up the Preakness cocktails. Smelling the Benedictine perhaps explained why no one carried it. Reminiscent of Jagermeister but even sweeter with a serious bite on the finish despite the high amount of sugar, it is fit only for mixing.

The last two cocktails of the night sat before us. The Rye version was first and it was quite tasty with a nice warming bit of heat down the throat and only a hint of oak. There was a whiff of orange peel and the feel was smooth with some nice acidity. The wood character was present with hints of vanilla and smoke and everything intermingled delightfully.

The Scotch-based drink was very different, with a heavy wood accent and some peat as well. The intensity of the Scotch nearly erased the slightly sweet feel the Rye allowed to show through. The flavors were intense and long and complex but even the lone Scotch drinker in the group said it wasn’t for her. The bartender agreed these were much better than the Black-Eyed Susans, but no one decided they found a new favorite cocktail that night. Neither of these made me wish I was sipping one in some May sunshine either, so it made sense the Preakness didn’t adopt its eponymous cocktail as the official drink.

It was an entertaining night of playing around with booze, not bad for a Tuesday. Feel free to choose a favorite or adjust as you see fit for Saturday’s racing.

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