I resisted, oh how I resisted, a post about the mint julep before the Kentucky Derby. With the Preakness Stakes this Saturday, however, the impulse for a horse racing-inspired drink could no longer be tamed. Horse racing has changed, what used to be the sport of kings is now advertised with the slogan “Get Your Preak On.” But, before its degeneration into a bunch of drunks in a muddy infield in a blighted Baltimore neighborhood, the Preakness was a much more sophisticated affair. First run in 1873, two years before the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness was a spring ritual in an area of the country that — before Homicide and The Wire — was well known for its equestrian culture and animal husbandry. While Maryland does not have the drinking tradition of Kentucky, it should still have a decent cocktail associated with its Triple Crown race.
The easy answer is the woeful Black Eyed Susan punch. A post-hoc conconcot, its base spirit, vodka, was essentially unavailable in the United States until the mid-20th Century, and certainly would not have been around in pre-Prohibition Baltimore. No, what’s needed is a drink that’s both worth drinking and historically appropriate.
Enter the Preakness Cocktail, but it needs some tweaks before it reaches the high standards of Frontier Mixology. First, before Bourbon took over American spirits after Prohibition, the whiskey of the mid-Atlantic region was rye whiskey, and Baltimore in particular was known for its Pikesville Rye, named after a neighborhood just up the road from the Pimlico Race Track. That has to be the base, although it is now distilled in… Kentucky. Another likely player would have been the now-defunct classic cocktail ingredient from Baltimore, Abbott’s bitters. Since they’re unavailable, we’ll just have to substitute whatever aromatic bitters you’ve got on hand. Finally, add in two classic cocktail ingredients, and you’ve got a modified Preakness Cocktail that is much more in keeping with the spirit and history of the race, and makes for a delicious drink.
1 ½ oz. Pikesville Rye Whiskey
½ oz. Maraschino liqueur
½ oz. Benedictine
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Stir with ice in a mixing glass; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
So when you’re at the off-track betting parlor this Saturday waiting in line behind the old Asian guy in the bolo tie and the dude whose sweatpants are stuffed with newspapers to decide on their trifectas, remember that horse racing used to be classy, and head home to mix yourself a modified Preakness Cocktail.