Cigar Aficionado

Of Horse Racing and Traditional Innovations

I just learned that when the Belmont Stakes is run for the 142nd time in New York on Saturday Woodford Reserve will be the official Bourbon of the race. This I applaud: it’s a good whiskey and I feel that not enough events these days have an official Bourbon. (My wife, however, would add that walking out to get the mail in the afternoon may not be an occurrence worthy of such a official distinction.)

Along with the official-Bourbon honor, Woodford will now be used to make the traditional cocktail of the Belmont Stakes, the Belmont Breeze.

Belmont Breeze
1 1/2 oz. Woodford Reserve
2 oz. Lemonade
1 oz. Pomegranate Juice
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge or cherry.

I use the term “traditional” under advisement. If by traditional you mean that the Belmont Breeze has the same sort of longevity that, say, the Mint Julep has had with its unstinting relationship with the Kentucky Derby, well, not that traditional. But if by traditional you mean it’s been the drink associated with the Belmont Stakes for quite a long time, again no. But if by traditional you mean this is the first time it’s been served this way at the race, then, yes, it is traditional.

To be fair, some tradition exists here. The Belmont Breeze has been listed as the official cocktail since 1998 when the barmeister Dale DeGroff invented the drink to replace the former official Belmont cocktail, the White Carnation. The only thing is that when the King of Cocktails first created it, the Breeze was a galaxy more complex and had different base ingredients:

Belmont Breeze (1998 Version)
1 1/2 oz. Seagrams 7
3/4 oz. Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry
1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
1 oz. Simple Syrup
1 1/2 oz. Fresh Orange Juice
1 1/2 oz. Cranberry Juice
1 oz. Soda Water
1 oz. 7up
Fresh Strawberry
Mint Sprig
Lemon Wedge
Shake the first six ingredients with ice and top with half 7up and half soda, approximately one ounce of each. Garnish with fresh strawberry, a mint sprig, and a lemon wedge.

Yes, involved were both whiskey—yet not of the same order—and lemon, but there the similarity ends. Of course, the White Carnation (something of a Fuzzy Navel), which the Breeze replaced, didn’t even have brown spirits:

White Carnation
2 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. Peach Schnapps
2 oz. Orange Juice
Soda Water
Splash of Cream
Crushed ice
Stir liquors and soda together and pour over ice in a highball glass. Splash cream over top then garnish with an orange slice.

Then again, by the time horse-racing Triple Crown gets to this its third leg, its drinking tradition has been corrupted by the second race in the series, the Preakness Stakes. The official cocktail at the Baltimore race has long been the Black-Eyed Susan (named for the state flower with which the winner is draped). The only thing is the recipe there keeps changing. This year it is:

Black-Eyed Susan (2010 Version)
3/4 oz. 42 Below vodka
1 1/4 oz. Early Times Kentucky Whiskey
3 oz. Sweet and Sour Mix
2 oz. Orange Juice
Garnish with orange slice and cherry. Add a stirrer.

However, in the past the Black-Eyed Susan has contained triple sec, pineapple juice and rum in place of whiskey. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to research this drink and can’t get too deep into its history, but me thinks that at some point it would have been made with straight rye whiskey simply because that was a favorite quaff in the region long before corporate sponsorship became so important. Or maybe back in the day racing fans didn’t need such niceties as an official drink and just made do with rye and soda, also a good mix.

Anyway, Woodford, which is the only Bourbon to have its own racing stables, also sponsors the race just prior to the Belmont Stakes, the Manhattan Handicap. Which reminds me of another great drink, which happens to be the official cocktail at my house, the simple Manhattan:

2-4 oz. Bourbon or rye
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1 dash Angostura or Orange Bitters
Shake with ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

And I happen to know Woodford makes a good one of those, too.