The official cocktail of the Preakness, the black-eyed Susan, was introduced in 1973. Since then, the cocktail’s official recipe has changed, several times, and often depending on what liquor sponsors have been lined up for the annual race.
That 1973 mix, we know, was a base of rum and vodka, splashed with orange and pineapple juices. But details about the origin of the cocktail can be confusing. Cocktail lore often is.
One version of the black-eyed Susan history says that the drink was created by the Heublein Co., a Hartford, Conn.-based liquor distributor and specialist in “ready-made” cocktails for the home consumer, everything from martinis and Manhattans to Star Stream Tiki and the Brass Monkey.
In the Heublein version, the company created the black-eyed Susan but refused to divulge its recipe to Preakness officials, who had to come up with their own recipe.
But credit really goes to the Harry M. Stevens Co., the longtime caterers at Pimlico, who asked Heublein to help them create a ready-made mix that would help them serve hundreds, if not thousands, of the cocktails, quickly, at the 1973 Preakness.
After that, the story gets hard to pin down. It’s possible Heublein kept the exact details of the black-eyed Susan recipe to itself. It’s not clear when Pimlico’s caterers were compelled to, or decided to, start making black-eyed Susans without the Heublein mix.
Some cocktail historians believe that Heublein repackaged the black-eyed Susan as the Brass Monkey.
Heublein did market the black-eyed Susan. The promotional ad, dated to 1975, is gaily illustrated by a Gilded Age gathering on the Pimlico infield in 1873. The historic Old Clubhouse, which was demolished by fire in 1966, is clearly visible in the background.
“Black Eyed Susan – the drink that was born at Pimlico
Said to be an invention of a daring horse-owning notable in the early days of the Maryland Jockey Club, the Black Eyed Susan, official drink of the famed Preakness Stakes, is a tradition at Pimlico.
It’s a bold and racy kind of drink with a clean start and an unflagging finish.
As exhilarating as a golden day at the track.”
The ad’s illustration alleges to depict Pimlico Race Course in 1873, with the historic Old Clubhouse, clearly visible in the background.
That, as they say, is sheer horse manure.