It's horse racing season which, for a non-bettor who still enjoys the pomp and circumstance of the Triple Crown, means the return of traditional whiskey-based horse racing cocktails.
But I have to confess: I've been cheating on the mint julep, and even worse, on the black-eyed Susan, for a more sophisticated drink, in a more sophisticated venue. That would be the Kentucky Rose at the new Blue Pit BBQ and Whiskey Bar in Hampden.
Blue Pit is a whiskey lover's dream come true. Read: my dream come true. There are 45 whiskeys on hand to sample and savor and brag about, along with a cocktail list that boasts over a half-dozen whiskey-based offerings.
The Kentucky Rose, its newest cocktail, originally ran as a special in celebration of the Kentucky Derby. But, according to owner Dave Newman, it was so popular that it was added to the regular menu. The beauty of this drink is that it satisfies the palate of a whiskey connoisseur and a novice alike.
Order the Kentucky Rose simply for the main ingredient — Johnny Drum, a private stock Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. It has a crisp, almost caramel apple finish.
Mix with homemade grenadine and lime juice and you get something that reminds me of a deconstructed whiskey sour. Bartender Alec Franklin says it's his riff on a Jack Rose, which uses applejack as the base spirit. In the Kentucky Rose, a grated cinnamon garnish plays up the apple notes of the Drum and Chinese bitters punch up its citrus undertones.
Next weekend is Preakness, and I'm sure you'll feel the pull to order a sugary black-eyed Susan. However, I'm giving you permission to skip that rail-whiskey-sweet-and-sour-mix hot mess for a more grown-up take on tradition.
How to Make the Kentucky Rose
2 oz. Johnny Drum
3/4 oz. homemade grenadine
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 dashes Chinese bitters
Mix ingredients; top with grated cinnamon.
Where to Get the Kentucky Rose
$9. 1601 Union Ave., Hampden