Ladies and Gentleman it's Preakness Season. Here in Baltimore, if you drive by Pimlico race track you'll see preparations are already underway. On that balmy Saturday in May when the triple crown comes to town many a Baltimorean will raise a glass and tune in to the race. Serving the official cocktail, the Black Eyed Susan, is a nice touch but chances are it's not on the menu.
The time is right to perfect the Black Eyed Susan, it's an opportunity for civic pride in a city that had more bad press than good press in the past year. Frankly we could all use a good drink. I'm the type of hostess who thinks a signature cocktail is a must-have for a great party, so I assembled an esteemed panel, bought a bunch of booze, and had my favorite Baltimore mixologist Jes Contro craft some options.
There have been a number of snarky articles in the past few years that strove to shed light on the disingenuous nature of the drink. The Black Eyed Susan is more of a marketing idea from the early 1970's to keep pace with the Kentucky Derby's mint julep than a bonafide Baltimore tradition. The recipe has changed over the years, but the current "official" ingredients include St. Germain which is an elderflower liqueur.
My friend Kendra poured drink #1 - we'll call it "The Pimlico"
2 shots vodka, 1 shot St. Germain, 1 shot fresh lime juice, pineapple juice, and a dash of water
served in a highball glass etched with a crab, very Baltimore and very delicious.
Being heavy-handed on the lime gave this drink a gimlet experience.
Having fresh fruit in the drink is critical.
In addition to citrus we also had organic pineapple juice on hand.
Pineapple juice is the ingredient that provides the black-eyed-susan wild flower color.
Drink #2 we'll call the "Swagger Jagger" carefully crafted by Jes, here are the ingredients; vodka, st. germain, lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, pineapple-coconut juice, and rosemary. Jes is quick to point out that the rosemary should be strained, but I left it in as a garnish. My esteemed panel concluded the "Swagger Jagger" was very "brunchy" and a bit "fussy".
Riffing off the idea of muddled mint found in the mint julep, we experimented with a number of savory herbs. The winner from that round (drink #3) we named "The Basil Susan" and it was the traditional black eyed susan drink recipe (minus the light rum) with the addition of basil. I thought it tasted like Stregga
Wanting to give the addition of light rum a try, drink #4 is the "Malibu Susan" made with Malibu coconut rum (which smells like summer in a bottle) vodka, fresh orange and fresh pineapple juice - garnished with an orange slice. My panel felt this one tasted "familiar". Its an easy drink well suited to hot weather. If you needed to serve a crowd, this one would be a good choice.
Drink #5 was the winning concoction - it's "The Black Eyed Mule" the recipe is a classic Moscow Mule with the addition of orange and pineapple juices. This drink is refreshing thanks to the spicy ginger beer (we used Goslings) and its a drink that symbolically could take on the mint julep since its also served in a metal cup. Finally mules are like horses (right?) so the name works for a Preakness drink.
Want to try our Black Eyed Mule?
They're available by request at Barretts Grill in Hunt Valley, Maryland
where you'll find Jes Contro handcrafting cocktails
In addition to being a great place to watch the Preakness, Hunt Valley has its own esquestrian tradition.
So there are a lot of inconsistencies with the Black Eyed Susan cocktail. Pimlico race track has a new 2016 official recipe for the drink that includes Makers Mark Bourbon. My guess is whoever is the alcohol sponsor (last year it was Finlandia) gets to revamp the recipe. Its also a bit of a myth that Maryland has a lot of black eyed susan flowers they're out there but they aren't readily available at your local Baltimore florist (they're wildflowers) . Black Eyed Susan's are the Maryland official state flower. Their black and yellow color matches the Maryland state flag.
It's true, we don't drink a lot of Black Eyed Susan's outside of those drinks served at Pimlico Race Track. You're not going to have much success here in Baltimore walking into a bar and ordering a Black Eyed Susan. But who cares? There's something very Baltimore about the story as it stands. Many of our civic traditions and much of our social history is skewed. It comes from our southern charm.
Perfecting the Black Eyed Susan - sometimes you should mess with tradition.
This year skip the Susan and go for Black Eyed Mule.
Cheers to that!