Weekend Cocktail: Black Eyed Susan

By John Garland
Black Eyed Susan

John Garland // Growler Magazine

On Saturday afternoon, California Chrome hopes to capture the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. The rest of us might spend the afternoon drinking cocktails to watch two and a half minutes of television.

But what cocktail? You know about the Kentucky Derby’s iconic mint julep, but have you ever tried Pimlico’s signature swill? No? Actually, you probably have.

Remember that party sophomore year of college, when everyone brought over a bottle and a mixer, and set them on that sticky table in the entryway? You’d just pour a couple random shots in your glass, douse the whole thing with OJ and call it a drink.

Well, that’s essentially the Black Eyed Susan. It’s a highball in the screwdriver/tequila sunrise/fuzzy navel family of drinks where subpar booze hides under lots of juice. It’s not a “serious” cocktail designed to wow the mustachioed mixologists among us. It’s supposed to be a strong, fruity wallop to slug over several hours in the hot Maryland sun.

It’s such an unscientific mission that the recipe tends to change every year. Sometimes, a Black Eyed Susan will be a vodka-rum mix. Others, it might be vodka-whiskey. Maybe it will include some triple sec or Grand Marnier (great!) or a dose of sour mix (gross).

Black Eyed Susan Banner

Let’s start with the recipe printed in Gary Regan’s Joy Of Mixology. It concurs with this report from the Baltimore Sun that notes the same formula in a Junior League of Baltimore Cookbook in 1985:

1 oz. vodka
1 oz. Mount Gay Eclipse rum
¾ oz. triple sec
1 ½ oz. orange juice
1 ½ oz. pineapple juice

Build drink in that order in a Collins glass with ice. Garnish with a maraschino cherry*, an orange wheel and pineapple cube ** and a lime wedge***.

Our notes:
* Or, don’t.
** Okay, I didn’t order a fruit salad.
*** Regan calls it “imperative” to squeeze the lime before tossing it in. And you might as well not waste the juice in the wake of the recent lime shortage which, thanks to bad weather and opportunistic drug cartels, has limes surging past $5/lb at retail.

There’s nothing objectively wrong with this mix. It’s light and fruity, and I could drink an obscene amount of them while looking good in seersucker. Except, it’s a little bland – we can do better.

This year’s official recipe features a 3:1 mix of vodka to St. Germain (advantage of having no set recipe: the ability to incorporate any sponsor) splashed with pineapple, lime and orange juices. 2013’s recipe called for three ounces (!) of lemongrass-blackberry syrup (which seems a tad pretentious for a horse race that famously hosted port-a-potty parkour).

Black Eyed Susan

John Garland // Growler Magazine

But I do like the idea of a floral influence in a drink named for a state flower. I just happened to have some Dashfire Lavender Tincture on hand, and it adds some nice dimension. But the drink still needs something else.

Now, I’m no Marylander, but this generic, fruity drink doesn’t really scream Baltimore to me. Certainly not in the way that bourbon and mint in a delicate copper tumbler screams Kentucky. That’s why I’m drawn to the Susan variations that have whiskey – specifically, rye whiskey, of which Maryland has a proud tradition.

Again, for a drink clearly not dressed to impress, don’t waste your New Richmond Rye on this one. Think bottom shelf – Old Overholt would do the job nicely. I found a 375ml of Canadian Club gathering dust in the back of the cabinet just waiting for a drink like this.

With whiskey, it tastes more like a complete drink. But in the spirit of the ever-changing recipe, just toss in anything you have on hand. That weird peach brandy your grandpa brought over three years ago would disappear into this mix. After multiple experiments (vodka-Pimms, whiskey-Pimms, rum-vodka-UV orange-raspberry schnapps) I’m convinced that a healthy dose of orange and pineapple juice could mask kerosene.

This drink would taste so much better under a blazing sky, so the effect of the Black Eyed Susan under a cloudy 50 degrees is muted. But, here’s the baseline. Feel free to adulterate as your stocks allow:

Black Eyed Susan
1 ½ oz whiskey
¾ oz vodka
½ oz orange liqueur
A few dashes of Lavender tincture
3 oz pineapple-orange juice.
Juice of a quarter lime

Build in a Collins glass in that order. Fill with ice between tincture and juices. Squeeze lime quarter before dropping in the rind. Garnish with fruit or, more appropriately, don’t.

John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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