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What is the black-eyed Susan, the official Preakness cocktail?

Every third Saturday in May this drink makes an appearance. Except almost every year it undergoes a slight change.

A black-eyed Susan is to the Preakness Stakes as a mint julep is to the Kentucky Derby. Only not as famous. Or liked.

The black-eyed Susan is the official drink of the Preakness Stakes, and every third Saturday in May for the past 46 years, people can’t wait to gulp one down. Or maybe they can. Many say its sweet, fruity flavor leaves something to be desired.

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Though it’s almost exclusively sold during the one week in May leading up to the horse race, it has served as a source of contention among consumers and bartenders alike.

What even is a black-eyed Susan?

Depends upon who you ask and what year you’re asking. This year the drink will have bourbon, vodka and peach schnapps with some dashes of orange juice and sour mix. But the recipe has gone through many iterations.

The drink was first served at the 1973 Preakness by the Harry M. Stevens Co., the longtime caterers at Pimlico Race Course. It’s said the team worked hard to make the drink have a pale yellow color, something that doesn’t remain today. The drink has been made with rum and vodka and pineapple juice. Then whiskey. And then swapped out for bourbon. And then back to whiskey. You get the picture.

In 2016, The Baltimore Sun asked local bartenders to come up with their twist on the cocktail. You can check out their recipes here.

A tray of black-eyed Susan drinks from Preakness 2018 at Pimlico Race Course.
A tray of black-eyed Susan drinks from Preakness 2018 at Pimlico Race Course. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)
So how does it stack up with the mint julep?

Even though the Preakness drink has room for interpretation, drink connoisseurs agree the Black Eyed Susan should never be compared to the Kentucky Derby drink. Two different races, two different drinks.

But, just so you have all the info: A mint julep has bourbon, simple syrup and fresh mint and is served over crushed ice after being muddled together. It’s been the traditional Kentucky Derby cocktail for nearly 100 years and, probably unlike the black-eyed Susan, is ordered on other days of the year, too.

How can I make the drink myself?

Not planning to go to the Preakness? Or just really craving a black-eyed Susan? You’re in luck. The Preakness published its full recipe online. Follow along to pretend like you’re there. The only thing you’ll be missing is the commemorative glass the drink usually comes in.

The 2019 Preakness black-eyed Susan

» 1 part Maker’s Mark

» 1 part DeKuyper Cocktail Peachtree

» 1 part Effen Vodka

» 2 parts orange juice

» 2 parts sour mix

Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into a glass over crushed ice. Garnish with an orange and cherry.

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Is the drink even good?

The verdict is still out. Some people say yes, others would yell a resounding “no!” But one thing it is good for? To get in the Preakness spirit.

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