The Preakness Cocktail

In my rush of enthusiasm for all things post-vernal equinox, the Triple Crown is of course on my mind. I have a love/huh? relationship with horse racing which is also not a very deep relationship, but it's also a fun relationship. What I mean is, I really really don't understand horse racing, but when I lived in St. Louis I enjoyed playing "horse hooky" on summer afternoons, sneaking off with my friend Mike to the track, and of course there are all the cocktail traditions that go along with the sport.

The Preakness Cocktail actually bears a closer resemblance to a Manhattan than a mint julep, and it's not even the most "official" cocktail of the Preakness Stakes. That would be the Black-Eyed Susan, so named because the winning horse is ceremonially sheathed in a coverlet of Maryland's state flower. The Black-Eyed Susan, in turn, is like a first cousin to a Hurricane or some such monstrosity: it's made of vodka, cheap whiskey, sour mix and orange juice, garnished with an orange slice and a Maraschino cherry (skewered together on a cellophane-frilled toothpick, I'm sure). I believe it's what they serve to the muddied masses who buy the cheap tickets that allow them standing-room admission to the infield, which this May includes a Maroon 5 concert! Sounds about right.

Blech to all that! The Preakness Cocktail, I feel confident telling you even though I've never tasted a Black-Eyed Susan, is much better. It's a medicinal-tasting Manhattan, thanks to the Benedictine. (Yes, I know I've been big on Benedictine this winter. (Although actually not really, according to the archive.) Yay, winter's over! You probably won't see Benedictine here for a while.) A good five o'clock cocktail, this one, as it's all-alcohol, easy to whip up, quaffable but worth your contemplation on the way down.

The Preakness Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth

1/2 ounces Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Lemon twist, to garnish

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass or tin shaker and stir thoroughly. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Tasting Notes

The traditional recipe, as you'll find it from many sources online, calls for blended whiskey instead of bourbon. But you all know that Rosie don't play that.

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The World's Greatest Rye Perfect Manhattan

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Rye Perfect Manhattan

I

Rye used to be implied

When ordering Manhattans

Bourbon's bastardized that, but it's ok, bourbon; I love you, too.

II

I like to surprise people

By serving them a Manhattan

And then a rye perfect one.

Watch their faces as a new favorite drink is discovered!

III

Tasted a rye perfect for the first time

When an old crush told me it was his cocktail of choice

Luckily, wound up liking rye perfects more than the guy.

IV

Let me back up, in case you don't know:

A Manhattan (i.e. regular) = bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters (Angostura), cherry garnish

Rye perfect Manhattan = rye whiskey, equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, bitters, lemon peel garnish

V

Not long ago I was at the original P.J. Clarke's,

Ordered a rye perfect,

Got served one with a cherry.

Unacceptable! (At least it wasn't this guy who served it to me.)

VI

Overholt's a perfectly-good-enough rye

Although I actually prefer Jim Beam Rye

Get over the mass-market stigma; for the $, Jim Beam Rye's the bomb.

VII

Unless, that is, you happen upon Whistlepig

Like I did when Ryan gave us a bottle... 17 days ago?

We finished it last weekend.

VIII

You know how there are two types of people in this world?

People who like dogs and uptight pricks?

You can administer a similar test with a rye perfect Manhattan.

IX

Was worried I wasn't writer enough

To do the rye perfect Manhattan justice.

And turns out I'm not, 'cuz here I am ripping off

Wallace Stevens. (And also myself 7 years ago.)

X

To come up with the recipe for World's Greatest,

All I did was a) tinker with amount of Angostura,

b) Use up my Whistlepig. But again, Jim Beam's cool.

XI

If ever there was a cocktail

To take the edge off of five o'clock,

It's this one.

XII

What you'll learn when you taste-test

Manhattans vs. rye perfect Manhattans

Is that you never realized just how syrupy-sweet a Manhattan truly is

And that rye perfects toe the line between sweetness and... let's call it earthy/woodsy/sour graininess

Like a ladybug tiptoeing up a dewy blade of grass (huh?)

XIII

World's Greatest Rye Perfect Manhattan

2 ounces Whistlepig straight rye whiskey

1/2 ounce sweet vermouth

1/2 ounce dry vermouth

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Lemon peel, for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in ice-filled mixing glass and stir briskly for about 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel after running the inside of the peel around the lip of the glass.

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The White Manhattan

Folks, how cool is my mother in law? So cool, she got me this for Christmas:

Moonshine! White dog! Rotgut! White lightning! Hooch! Fire water! Mountain dew!

Academically speaking, corn whiskey, made from a mashbill of a government-mandated-minimum 81 percent corn (with rye and malted barley making up the difference) that usually sees the inside of a charred oak barrel exactly never. In other words, it's a sort of bastardized, unaged bourbon (which requires at least 51 percent corn in its mashbill and some time sittin' in charred oak).

On a swing through Kentucky last year, Sean and I sipped some at the Buffalo Trace distillery (aka ZOMG NIRVANA), which hadn't yet started wide-scale distribution of its White Dog (as it was labeled), and in fact couldn't even keep up with demand at the distillery gift shop. I remember it tasting cockily abrasive, running-on-fumes heady, but quite likely that was me letting the liquor's reputation precede itself. It's called "dog" for the same reason it's been called "lightning": because it barks at'cha, when it's not rippin' you to shreds.

Now that corn whiskey has become white-hot, cocktail recipes that incorporate it have started popping up online, which was just what I needed for my reintroduction and de-intimidation: To combine my corn whiskey with even more liquor! (Man, do I sometimes worry I have a problem.) Even better, I loved the sound of this White Manhattan, which I found on a South African online food mag called Spill.

Turned out I liked the taste of it, too -- like, a hella lot -- and, as a nice bonus, the color came out a gorgeous yolky-sunrise shade.

The White Manhattan

(Adapted from Spill)

1 3/4 ounces Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey

1/2 ounce B&B

1/2 ounce Cinzano Extra dry Vermouth

3 dashes Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with a few ice cubes (the larger, the better). Stir vigorously with a bar spoon for about 10 seconds. Pour into a cocktail glass.

Tasting Notes:

I changed two things from Spill's recipe. One, I used B&B instead of just B (as in Benedictine), simply because I didn't have any plain-B in the house. So I had to come up with a Plan B! HA! Two, I used rhubarb bitters instead of orange bitters, mainly because I was worried orange bitters would muddy-up the color.

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