And it’s called the Black Eyed Susan. Now, I’m a bourbon man. It’s been well documented:
And it’s also been well-documented that last time I wrote about horse racing it didn’t go so well. So let’s keep talking about something I do know a thing or two about: drinking. Come warm weather, it can be a little hard to drink what has been called “sunshine in a bottle,” straight, especially when the real summer sunshine is beating down on you. Indeed, I see the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, the Mint Julep, as a concession to that fact, loaded down as it is with sugar or simple syrup, crushed ice, and its tasty weed namesake. Unlike some, I’m not a bourbon purist. I will drink a well made bourbon cocktail. I will drink a bourbon on the rocks. I will drink a widely-available rail bourbon. I will drink a cheap bourbon. I will drink a sourced bourbon. Hell, you’re probably starting to figure out that I will have a glass of bourbon pretty much anywhere, anytime.
Pimlico, the racetrack home of the Preakness Stakes, however, does not have a cocktail made with bourbon, or any whiskey. No, their house drink is the Black-Eyed Susan, named after the state flower. A website that discusses the origins of the cocktail notes:
The Preakness winner is draped with a blanket of black-eyed Susans…or would be, if black-eyed Susans actually bloomed in May, which they don’t. Instead, they make a blanket of Viking daisies, and paint their centers with black lacquer to mimic the appearance of a black-eyed Susan. Sigh.
So, leaving aside the inauspicious name of the drink, and the fact that it does not contain the best drink ingredient, bourbon, is it any good? Well, recipes abound, mostly because Heublein, the spirits company that created the premixed Black-Eyed Susan back in 1973, refused to divulge the ingredients to make one from scratch. Then they went out of business. So here, according to Cocktailians, is how to make the closest thing to that secret formula:
Black-Eyed Susan (original)
- 1 oz. vodka
- 1 oz. Mount Gay Eclipse rum
- 3/4 oz. Cointreau
- 1 1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 1/2 oz. pineapple juice
Build in a Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Add a Maraschino cherry, an orange wheel, a pineapple cube, and a lime wedge for garnishes. Note: it’s imperative to squeeze the juice from the lime wedge into the drink.
Well, that sounds pretty tasty! If you’re sitting on a hot beach somewhere near the equator. But it’s totally unclear what connection this drink has to Baltimore, Maryland, horses, or racing. Indeed Heublein seems to have been pressed into inventing the premixed drink so that workers at Pimlico could quickly serve thousands of glasses of the ready-made beverage to thirsty fans. That’s the scene at the Kentucky Derby, too, where most of the Mint Juleps are actually a pre-made mix from Early Times, which is not even a bourbon, but a whisky (spelled without the “e” for reasons lost to time), since it is not aged in new oak barrels, as the law requires.
Back to the Susan. As the Baltimore Sun reported:
“It’s a drink that has no roots in classical mixology,” said Tim Riley, the beverage director for the Bagby Restaurant Group. “For better or for worse.”
Tim, I’m going to say it’s for the worse. There’s nothing wrong with tiki drinks. I’ve been known to sip a beverage out of a coconut, or with my nose tickled by an umbrella, quite happily. But Marylanders have an alternative with a rich connection to the Free State: rye.
Nelson Carey’s Snoball Susan
- 2 1/2 oz. Pikesville rye whiskey
- 1 oz. Cointreau
- 1 oz. white rum
- 1 1/2 oz. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 oz. freshly-squeezed orange juice
- 1 oz. simple syrup
Indeed, Maryland once had a booming and distinctive rye industry, so this recipe makes great sense. Although Pikesville is now made in Kentucky by the bourbon barons at Heaven Hill, it does at least have claim to a Maryland lineage. (Plus the brand was relaunched in 2015 to great reviews, with a snazzy new bottle and label.)
It’s time for the fruity vodka-and-rum based Susan to be taken to the glue factory. For goodness sakes, the American colonies originally began distilling corn-based spirits like whiskey to avoid steep tariffs that the British were placing on Caribbean rum. Maryland, an original colony, has let the fox into the henhouse! Also, let’s take this opportunity to stop calling the drink after a flower which isn’t even in bloom during the only week of the year, according to the Sun article, when people even order it. Black-Eyed Susans bloom starting in mid summer. And that sounds like a fine time of year to enjoy a fresh and fruity cocktail named after them.
So, Maryland. Take that rye-based Snoball Susan and rename it a Pimlico, as is your birthright. That’s a Maryland name everyone knows, with a main ingredient that should inspire as much pride in Marylanders as the Terps, blue crabs and boating. Oh, and make me one, while you’re at it.
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